Jury selection began this week in the retrial of a man accused of plowing into a group of motorcyclists, killing four of them, while under the influence of drugs. The collision took place in March 2010, and in April of that year, a Maricopa grand jury indicted the driver on four counts of manslaughter, five counts of aggravated assault and seven counts of endangerment.
Reports stated that the driver was under the influence of methamphetamines, although the driver states that the crash was caused by failed brakes on the dump truck. He also claims that whatever drug may have been in his system, that is, whatever impairment existed, was the result of the fact that he takes diet pills.
The case went to trial in August 2011, and eventually a mistrial was declared. The reports on the mistrial quote an unnamed court official as stating that the reason for the mistrial was that the jury was deadlocked on the issues of manslaughter and assault.
We thought our readers might be wondering, if there is no dispute about a drug being in the driver’s system (and, presumably, about the existence of at least some impairment), and if there is similarly no dispute about the fact that the dump truck collision killed the motorcyclists, why the jury would have such a hard time with the manslaughter charge. After all, if I am pulled over in my vehicle and am found to be impaired “to the slightest degree” as the result of the presence of drugs, I am guilty of DUI in Arizona. Assuming the dump truck driver was in a similar situation, how could any juror believe that he was not guilty of manslaughter?
The answer is in the manslaughter statute, which provides, among other things, that manslaughter consists of recklessly “causing” the death of another person. We have to assume that there are some motor vehicle accidents where one driver is either drunk or under the influence of drugs, yet the accident was caused by the other driver. The “innocent” driver may be guilty of DUI, or endangerment for that matter, but unless and until a jury finds, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the actions of the driver caused the deaths, there can be no manslaughter conviction.
In the dump truck case, the driver claims that his brakes failed, and that this, and not any behavior on his part, caused the truck to slam into the motorcyclists, killing and injuring a number of them. We don’t know at this point what proofs will be introduced at trial, but we will be watching to see how trial number 2 turns out.
If you have been charged with DUI or a DUI-related offense, contact an experienced DUI attorney in Phoenix to protect your interests.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004