Proof Of DUI Alone Is Sufficient To Convict For Aggravated Manslaughter
- June 3, 2015
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Following a fatal motor vehicle accident while driving under the influence (DUI) (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50), William T. Liepe was charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1)); second-degree vehicular homicide (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5); second-degree aggravated assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(1); third-degree assault by auto (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c)(2)); and fourth-degree assault by auto (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(c)(2). Max Guzman and 2 of his children were in a Honda Civic waiting to turn left at 1:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon in April, 2011. Guzman’s Honda was rear-ended by Liepe’s Ford Explorer and spun into another lane of travel where it was hit by a passing motorist, Rosa Vazquez, driving a Cadillac Escalade. Guzman’s younger child was killed, Guzman and his other child survived but suffered substantial injury. Vazquez, her mother and 2 children did not sustain life threatening injuries. Police found an open container of alcohol in Leipe’s vehicle and he admitted to the consumption of several beers earlier in the day. A sample of Leipe’s blood was taken and his blood alcohol content (BAC) was .192 typically indicates substantial impairment of one’s driving ability. Testimony was presented at trial that Liepe admitted to never having noticed the Honda in his path waiting to turn. Reconstruction of the accident revealed evidence relating to stopping distance and opportunity to avoid an accident. Ultimately, the trial court granted Liepe’s motion to dismiss aggravated manslaughter as a charge upon concluding that the State must prove more than intoxication. In State v. Liepe, the NJ Appellate Division considered State v. Radziwil, 235 N.J. Super. 557 (App. Div. 1989) with regard to what inferences were permitted from extraneous evidence with regard to extreme indifference to human life. Radziwil also set forth that, in matters of driving under the influence, evidence of the exact degree of intoxication is not required to prove aggravated recklessness. In State v. Kromphold, 162 N.J. 345 (2000), the court considered recklessness based on intoxication and set forth the premise that, although one could be convicted of driving under the influence (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50) it is not conclusive evidence of reckless indifference to human life. The Appellate Division distinguished aggravated manslaughter from reckless manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:2-2(b)(3)) in State v. Curtis, 195 N.J. Super. (App. Div. 1984). Recklessness is shown by conscious disregard of “substantial and unjustifiable risk” of death as a result of the conduct in question. The level of disregard required is a “gross deviation” from that of a reasonable person. Aggravated manslaughter includes the heightened requirement that the situation be “under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life” wherein risk becomes elevated from a possibility to a probability. The Appellate Division ultimately determined that evidence of intoxication, without more, shall survive a motion to dismiss the charge of aggravated manslaughter. If you are facing driving while intoxicated (DWI) or other criminal charges stemming from a driving under the influence or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) charge, you should obtain experienced defense counsel immediately to protect yourself from loss of rights and liberties. For more information about DUI/DWI, assault by auto, aggravated assault or other serious motor vehicle charges visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of counsel.