The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that a woman’s do-not-resuscitate order could not be used to overturn a man’s conviction for criminal vehicular homicide. The man had been convicted of both criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation after a jury trial in Ramsay County. He appealed his case to the appellate court, essentially arguing that the DNR order precluded doctors from treating complications that the woman endured after a car accident, and the woman died from those complications and not the injuries she sustained in the car accident.
The man was accused of drunk driving in causing the accident, which injured three people in May 2010 in a residential area of St. Paul. Authorities obtained a blood sample from the man after the crash, which returned a result showing a 0.11 percent alcohol concentration, according to the court’s opinion.
One woman sustained serious injuries in the wreck and was admitted to the intensive care unit. She remained in the hospital for about 13 days, before she was transferred to a rehabilitation care center. She was later returned to the hospital with pneumonia and other medical issues. While hospitalized, doctors determined that the woman needed a breathing tube, but she had a DNR prohibiting the medical device, and told doctors earlier during her treatment that she did not want a breathing tube.
The woman died after doctors followed the woman’s DNR order, according to court documents. Her doctor reportedly said that the woman would have “possibly” lived had she been given a breathing tube.
Prosecutors charged the man allegedly involved in the accident with CVH and CVO. A jury found him guilty of both offenses. The man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the CVH conviction and to 25 months in prison for the CVO conviction, each sentence to run concurrently.
The man challenged the CVH conviction on appeal. He argued that the woman’s DNR order broke the chain of causation between the alleged drunk driving accident and the woman’s death. The Court of Appeals acknowledged that the medical causes of the woman’s death were pneumonia and aspiration, and not the injuries sustained in the car accident. Experts reportedly testified that the complications resulted from the accident, and the appellate court upheld the conviction.
The court ruled that the woman’s DNR order was foreseeable to the defendant, and therefore was not an intervening event to break the chain of causation as a legal matter.
It is important to note that criminal appeals are an important part of our criminal justice system-a part that is in place as a check and balance on government power. Many issues may rise to the appellate courts that help to protect the constitutional freedoms that this country is founded upon, and to protect against future wrongful convictions.
Source: Minnesota Court of Appeals, “State v. Smith, A11-1687,” Sep. 4, 2012