Posts Tagged ‘traffic’

Just Speeding or Reckless Driving?

February 5, 2010

Earlier this week, I was stuck in a traffic back-up on I-10 for more than an hour because of an accident that was blocking the left lane.  From my perspective, it looked like a one-car crash that was probably caused by speeding in rainy conditions.  I try to use situations like that as “teachable moments” for my kids—I always tell them that you won’t get where you’re going on time if you have an accident!

The situation brought to mind a recent Florida case on vehicular homicide, which means killing someone by driving a car in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm.  Vehicular homicide by definition requires proof of reckless driving, which is also a criminal charge in Florida (not “just a ticket”).  Reckless driving is driving with a willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, and it’s punishable by up to 90 days for a first offense or 6 months for a second offense.

Generally speaking, speeding alone is not enough to constitute reckless driving, but Florida courts have held that it can be enough in certain situations, depending on how far above the speed limit you were going.

In the vehicular homicide case that came out recently, a South Florida man driving a Corvette crashed into another car at an intersection, killing the other driver.  The investigating officer estimated that the Corvette was going much faster than the 40 mph speed limit, and there were no pre-impact tire marks to indicate that the car had slowed down before the crash.

The officer got a search warrant for the black box in the Corvette.  The box showed that the Corvette was going 103 mph five seconds before the crash and 98 mph one second before. The defense attorney filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer did not have enough probable cause for the search warrant. The appeals court held that there was enough probable cause because speeding alone could support the vehicular manslaughter charge.

This case is a good example of how traffic offenses can turn into serious criminal charges in an instant.

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Sentencing Guidelines, Part II

January 18, 2010

I came across another example of the way our judges are not allowed to use their own judgment anymore.  These are the kinds of things that don’t make the newspapers.  “Tough on crime” rolls off the tongue really easily, and it makes us all feel good, but it doesn’t take into account all the cases that get swept under the rug of injustice in our furor to rid our streets of violent crime.

This was a Jacksonville case.  The charge was possession of cocaine.  The defendant had prior felony convictions, and the sentencing guidelines called for a minimum sentence of 14 months in prison.  But the trial judge felt that the defendant was amenable to drug treatment, so he sentenced the man to six months in the county jail, to be served in the residential drug program (which is a well-respected treatment program).  The state appealed, arguing that the judge did not have a valid reason for sentencing the man to a sentence lower than the sentencing guidelines called for.  The First District Court of Appeal agreed, ruling that the judge did not have a valid reason for a “downward departure” sentence, and sent the case back to the trial court for resentencing within the guidelines.

I’m not faulting the First District Court of Appeal.  The court’s legal reasoning was correct.  And I’m not saying that the trial judge’s sentence was the one I would have imposed.  I don’t know anything about the particular facts of the case.  I might have felt that a prison sentence was more appropriate.  The point is that trial judges are supposed to use their experience, reasoning, and judgment in making these kinds of decisions, and in many cases their hands are tied.  The law does not always permit them to impose the sentences they feel are appropriate and justified under the particular circumstances of the case.

If you were in front of a judge, no matter whether it was for a traffic ticket, a DUI, or any other crime, wouldn’t you want the judge to make a sentencing decision based on all the facts? Wouldn’t you want the judge to consider your particular circumstances?  I know I would.