Brooklyn DAs Ignore “Rule of Two” in Death of Pedestrian Maude Savage

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but he was not charged with criminal negligence under the
The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but he was not charged with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.” Image via Daily News

An unlicensed motorist who killed a senior in Brooklyn last year has pled guilty to a low-level misdemeanor and could be sentenced to probation and a nominal fine. Though the driver was charged with violating two traffic laws, current and former district attorneys Ken Thompson and Charles Hynes declined to pursue criminal negligence charges under the so-called “rule of two.”

Maude Savage was in a crosswalk and crossing with the light at Sutter and Euclid Avenues on November 25 when Robert Brown drove a commercial van into her, according to reports. Video of the crash shows that Brown barely slowed as he turned left toward Savage, leaving her no time to clear his path. Savage soon died from her injuries. She was 72.

Brown was charged by then-DA Hynes with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that stipulates that he drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. Court records say he was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Charges against Brown were not upgraded after Maude Savage died.

The rule of two is case law precedent that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. New York City prosecutors reflexively cite the rule as an obstacle to charging motorists for killing, but routinely fail to bring charges in crashes involving two or more traffic violations. The circumstances of this crash — driving without a license, failure to yield — seemingly satisfied the rule of two, but neither Hynes nor his successor Thompson exercised it.

City prosecutors tend to pursue third degree unlicensed operation as the top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill pedestrians. (It’s also applied against unlicensed drivers who turn without signaling.) Third degree unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

According to court records, on June 20 Brown pled guilty to unlicensed operation in the second degree, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense. Second degree unlicensed operation is a more serious charge, but it’s still an unclassified misdemeanor. Penalties may include jail time, probation, and a fine of not less than $500.

Brown is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

  • mynightcheese

    I’ve been reading this blog for a while now and it sure seems like an inordinate number of motorists in these stories (where pedestrians and/or cyclists are critically injured or killed) are unlicensed. This of course makes logical sense. Being tougher on drivers caught driving without a license seems like such an obvious way to prevent more serious incidents from happening; a natural extension of “broken windows” policing if you will. But the violation comes with almost not consequences, it’s so obviously horrible and damaging to society.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    I don’t get how this is considered reasonable. If someone got a gun, used it dangerously and killed a civilian they would have a tough time now. But this person does it with a car and barely gets a slap in the wrist. Either the DA needs to come out and ask for help in new laws, etc. to prosecute murders like this driver, or he’ll be just as accountable by looking the other way. If some of the society is allowed to kill like this without consequences, we can not call ourselves a just nation.

  • Mark Walker

    Why shouldn’t unlicensed driving carry a mandatory prison term, whether it results in a death or not? There seems to be little point in licensing drivers if the penalties for driving without a license are virtually nil. Licensing should be the first line of defense against dangerous driving, not an afterthought that results in a misdemeanor when someone gets killed.

  • Bolwerk

    Eh, we should be leery of being as heavy-handed as, well, car culture acolytes usually are, especially for the first offense or two. Use fines. Instead of spending tens of thousands to house a prisoner, charge people who behave that way four figures. The proceeds can go to street safety, pedestrian plazas, and other positive improvements.

  • lop

    Especially if nobody is hurt, large fines and make it impossible to get a license for some period of time depending on the severity of the incident would be sufficient, seize the vehicle and sell at auction if they can’t be paid.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    While in Kirkland Washington they give our $200 parking tickets!

  • lop

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/nyc_ped_safety_study_action_plan.pdf

    The city’s pedestrian safety action plan a couple years ago said only 8% of pedestrian fatalities involved a driver without a valid license. When the driver is unlicensed the story may get more attention from certain media outlets that will see it as something other than an ‘accident’ however.

    Nationwide they didn’t have a breakdown for pedestrian fatalities, but 19% of all fatal crashes involved at least one driver without a valid license. The report hypothesized that the transit options in the city give unlicensed drivers more options, so they drive less often.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    I guess you don’t need a license to drive unless you kill someone. Is the DMV giving out licenses to kill?

  • Cold Shoaler

    Four figures? That’s not nearly enough of a deterrent.

    Taking someone’s license away should PREVENT them from driving. If they drive anyway, they have demonstrated that they need to be physically prevented from accessing a motor vehicle. How about house arrest? And there can be a registry, so people know who in their community is a hazard to their children.

  • neroden

    It used to be that systematically refusing to prosecute crimes committed by a particular group of people was considered “corruption” and would lead to calls for the removal of the prosecutor.

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