Today’s Headlines

  • NY Court Decisions Make It Tough for Serious Deadly Driving Charges to Stick (NYT)
  • NYPD Stonewalls Family Asking for Video of Police Driver Fatally Striking Ryo Oyamada  (Gothamist)
  • Brooklyn Judge Refused to Suspend Julio Acevedo’s License After Prior Drunk Driving Bust (News)
  • Drunk Driver Given Up to 7 Years for Killing Construction Worker on Grand Central Parkway (Advance)
  • ITDP Update: Select Bus Service Continues to Fall Short of BRT Standard (CapNY, News)
  • A Day After Bronx DA Jackson Gets Ticket, Manhattan DA Vance’s SUV Gets One Too (CapNY)
  • Quinn Supports Speed Cams, Mum on Red Light Cams (CapNY, Advance, News, TransNat, Post)
  • $400,000 in State DUI Grants Will Pay for 10 New NYPD Crash Investigators (Post, Gothamist)
  • New Photos from MTA Show Off Fulton Center Construction Progress (Gothamist)
  • Most Trains May Be Back, But Behind-the-Scenes Sandy Repairs Will Take Time (TransNat, WSJ, DNA)
  • Tribeca Plaza in Line for Capital Reconstruction (Tribeca Trib)

More headlines at Streetsblog Capitol Hill

  • jrab

    I’m sure Counselor Vaccaro will have something to add to this, but the top bullet Times article was a pretty depressing read for this habitual Streetsblog reader and commenter. It seems as if the Court of Appeals is willing to let any kind of antisocial or negligent behavior slide, as long as it takes place behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

  • @85211970d034887d032f8c319f70adbb:disqus 
    It’s not really news. If you’ve been digging into news on individual cases, you’ll have seen this monster wielding its tentacles for some time now, in the form of less-notorious cases being lightly prosecuted or settled for minor plea-bargains. Aside from the CoA having its own weird and illogical stance on the state-of-mind requirements for criminal liability, there’s also the similar problem that juries won’t consider criminal liability for violent driving. They sympathize with the driver, not with the property owners or casualties. It’s because we have a serious cultural issue with driving. It’s not just how people get around, it’s accepted as a way-of-life. But that sort of thinking harms cities and kills people.

  • jrab

    Brian, I have served on a jury (civil case) and can attest that juries are hardly the autonomous entities that you make them out to be. As a juror, you are given the charges and you decide whether the evidence meets the standard. You don’t get to think outside the box and suggest that there’s criminal liability when that’s not on offer.

    As for whether juries who are offered criminal charges are deciding that they don’t apply, remember “beyond reasonable doubt” from the TV shows. It’s very easy to plant the seeds of doubt in a juror’s mind, especially in cases where jurors are being asked to evaluate claims for which there’s no direct evidence, like whether a driver was distracted. I really don’t think it’s a question of being sympathetic to the driver instead of to the victim.

    It seems to me that automobiles are substantially more dangerous to operate in congested urban environments than usually recognized. For this reason, the Court of Appeals state-of-mind requirements are harmful for urban areas because they don’t adequately weight the damage that motor vehicles can do to uninsured street users like pedestrians and bicyclists.

    Instead of placing the blame on hard-to-pin-down “cultural issues,” I would prefer a policy of moving forward with infrastructure improvements that address the danger of motor vehicles in congested urban environments. Perhaps the Times article will be helpful in this respect, to burst the bubble of thinking that allows people in charge to belittle the need for these infrastructure improvements because they are mistakenly assuming that motor vehicles can be safely operated in New York City.

  • Needs

    Brian, that “aside from the CoA having its own weird and illogical stance” statement isn’t really an aside at all. The article suggests that it may be the center of the problem. According to the article, the CoA has both thrown out jury verdicts of criminally negligent homicide and extended “moral blameworthiness” to a general legal standard for attaining such convictions in the future. The court has essentially so restricted the ability of prosecutors to meet their burden of proof in the case of collisions that prosecutors are no longer considering that charge. 

    That, for me, helps explain the ways that DAs prosecute these crimes more than the vague cultural effects of the car culture. If the burden of proof is impossible to reach because they have to literally convince the driver was not only careless, but immoral, most DAs will reasonably decline to prosecute on those grounds. The effect, of course, is to lower the legal paths available for pursuing driving that is IMO immoral.

    There seem to be two possible paths to take. One a legislative path to rewrite the criminally negligent homicide statute such that “moral blameworthiness” is no longer considered the relevant legal guideline for burden of proof in the case of collisions (incredibly difficult, no doubt, given the political power of the AAA and other auto lobbies in Albany). The second is a broader path to convince prosecutors that they can convince juries that reckless driving is an immoral act. In the city, at least, this may be an attainable goal. And perhaps we can help it along by changing the language we use (we’ve already seen in the “accident” -> “collision” how changing language can perhaps change investigative  approaches on the part of the NYPD … he said hopefully). Now, I think we should think about talking more explicitly about careless driving in terms of immoral action. I think most people reading here already deeply believe it is so, but perhaps explicitly using the language of immorality can help steer the broader public politics of transportation safety, including the charges that DAs use, in the direction we want. 

  • Man, I need an actual lawyer’s help in here.

    I’ll try, though. First of all, there’s the idea that Steve raised last week that the VAT statues don’t declare strict criminal liability for casualties in automobile collisions, so juries and appeals judges are well within their rights to review current and decided cases for the subjective factors listed in the law. The idea that a motive of deviant recklessness (and not just the presence of a dead body) needs to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt for vehicular manslaughter, and all the driver has to do is come up with an excuse and remorse to dodge sentences, verdicts, even charges at all… it’s ridiculous. Drivers think most acts of traffic violations are reasonable behavior. You make an illegal U-turn on a wide street and accidentally plow over a cyclist that you didn’t see? Most drivers have made that turn safely before, so it’s not risky enough to criminalize. Pathetic.

    There’s also the concept of jury nullification. Please research this, there’s sufficient info available in Google to explain the concept. Juries are free to make up their own mind about verdicts. Judges have recourse against this, but if they also took a car to get to court, you can’t count on them to make an unbiased JNOV decision in a vehicle casualty case, either.

  • jrab

    Brian, you may think “beyond reasonable doubt” in traffic cases is a “ridiculous” standard, but if you bring that into the jury box, you will cause a mistrial. Judges are very careful to ensure that every juror understands the standards in the same way.

    Jury nullification is an odd precedent for you to bring up, since it is intimately tied to REJECTION of sentences meted out in accordance with unjust laws. You are asking for the exact opposite, for juries to punish defendants more severely than the sentence warrants. It seems to me that any sentence imposed by a jury under the conditions you describe could be easily overturned on appeal.

  • Joe R.

    @brianvan:disqus Jury nullification allows juries to not convict on a charge, even if the state proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, if they feel the law itself is unjust. For example, a growing segment of society feels many of over drug laws are overly harsh. As such, they might opt not to convict a person charged with possessing small amounts of illegal drugs. What jury nullification can’t do is allow a jury to convict on charges which weren’t given by the prosecuting attorney. Juries are of course free to convict even in cases where the state fails to meet the usual standard of proof, but those convictions are liable to be overturned on appeal.

    I personally think that we would be better off pursuing non-jail alternatives when motorists kill people for two reasons. One, the standards for a conviction seem to be impossibly high. Two, the vast majority of people we would be spending taxpayer dollars to keep locked up are not a threat to society unless they’re driving. Jail is expensive. It should be used mainly to keep people who threaten society isolated from the general population. It would make far more sense to just permanently revoke someones driving privileges if they kill or seriously injure someone through negligence, recklessness, or incompetence. This is a much lower bar to jump. It’s also been established that driving is a privilege which the state can revoke at will.

  • Joe R.

    I should also add that jury nullification is a great way to get out of jury duty if you have a desire to do so. Just mention those two words to the interviewing lawyers, and bingo, you’re sent home because you just made the prosecutor’s carefully planned case go down the drain by saying you might refuse to convict, period, regardless of any evidence they present.

  • Juries do have ways of doing what they want, even if it is against the law  and the weight of the evidence.  Judges instruct the juries carefully on the law but jurors don’t always listen.  Lawyers learn about this because they chat with the jurors after the verdict is rendered and the jury is released.  the things the jurors say during those discussions is often instructive and sometimes mind-boggling, but is rarely grounds to overturn the verdict.

    In the case of of the woman killed on Hamilton, I would expect most juries to contain a person who would conclude that the trucker had the right of way, the driver’s not morally blameworthy for not looking for and not seeing the victim, because if you have the right of way, you don’t have a responsibility to look.  That’s not the law, but that’s what most people would consider the reasonable standard of care of the roadway. Of course the woman’s dead, so the only testimony the jury would hear anyway from the driver is that he was very diligent, looked in every direction and in every mirror, and didn’t see her.

    I do think license suspensions and revocations are the best way to deal with the less egregious cases (and I don’t know enough to say that the Hamilton Ave. case is not egregious). Take killer drivers off the road.  It’s so much easier than convicting them of a crime under the current law as interpreted and applied by judges and juries who are not immune from the windshield perspective.

  • Daniel Winks

    Murderists who kill others with motor vehicles aren’t exactly the type to view a permanent license revocation as something they need follow. These kind of scum will just continue to drive whether or not they have a license. They’ve already murdered someone with a car, what’s a little driving without a license going to hurt? Unless the penalty for driving without a license is significantly more punitive (say, 7-10 years in jail, first offense), revoking someone’s license isn’t going to do any good.

    Also, I don’t see how removing someone who’s already killed from the roads does ANY GOOD AT ALL. What’s the stats on repeat offenders for vehicular homicide? I doubt there’s even one case per year in the US, on average. It’s the NEW cases that matter. Even if people knew they’d lose their license forever if they kill someone, it won’t change things, they’ll just rationalize their reckless behavior, convince themselves they are an excellent driver, and continue on like they have been for the last 100 years.

    The only way to stop this is dramatic reductions in maximum speeds on all non-freeway roads. Anything other than a freeway should be a maximum of 20MPH, unless it’s rural, with a standard of what defines rural (let’s say rural is any street with less than 10 homes per mile). Combined with this we need MUCH increase penalties for distracted driving. 30 days in jail for using a phone, with stringent enforcement. 30% of yearly income in fine for running a red light. 1% of yearly income for speeding, per MPH over, for the first 5 MPH over, 2% for each MPH for the next 5 and 5% for every MPH over after that, with jail time on each offense if more than 10 over.

    These sort of violations kill people, tens of thousands per year. There’s no reason whatsoever to have lenient penalties for such easily avoidable crimes. Staying under the maximum speed isn’t hard. Not running a red light isn’t hard. Not using a phone while driving isn’t hard. One can even reduce the risk of violating these laws to zero by never turning the key in a car ignition. Driving isn’t a right, it’s a privilege and as such, that privilege should be restricted until it no longer impedes upon the right to life of others.

  • Joe R.

    @google-7c450ca704a2c467898c249b613ca8d7:disqus There is a very easy way to keep someone whose license is revoked from driving again-confiscate and auction off their car if they’re caught driving without a license. The proceeds can go to help victims of motor vehicles. And the perpetrator will still be liable for car payments on a car he no longer owns, which is pretty severe punishment. I’m all for permanent license revocation if someone causes death or serious injury through recklessness, negligence, or even plain old incompetence. I would like to systematically reduce the pool of licensed drivers to less than 25% of the adult population through license revocations and much harder driver tests. While we have the problem of many bad drivers, we also have the problem of too many cars on the road, period. Regardless of the level of driver training, high traffic volumes in areas with cyclists or pedestrians are a recipe for disaster.

  • There is a significant problem with recidivism. It may not be that many people kill multiple times, but it is not unusual at all for a particular driver to seriously injure multiple times. I have seen it a number of times in my legal practice. It’s true that drivers who lose their license may not be deterred, but the penalties to get stiffer when they injure or kill while driving unlicensed. These laws are not the sole solution to the problem, but part of it.