Minnesota Court of Appeals overturns vehicular homicide verdict

When there is an error your criminal trial, it is important to work with your criminal defense attorney to file a timely appeal and argue why that error led the jury to believe you were guilty. Luckily for one man, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently ruled his conviction for vehicular homicide in the death of an ATV driver should be overturned. It granted the pickup driver a new trial because he was denied a fair trial when the jury, which heard evidence that he was drinking, was not told that the ATV driver was also under the influence of alcohol.

The accident occurred on Aug. 17, 2008, when the pickup truck allegedly hit the all-terrain vehicle, killing its driver. While the ATV driver’s blood alcohol content was 0.15 percent following the accident, well above the legal limit, the trial judge refused to allow the jury to hear any evidence of the ATV driver’s intoxication. The court determined the trial judge had abused his discretion in rejecting the evidence.

The three-judge appeals court reasoned that this unfairly put any responsibility of alleged drunk driving on the suspect, while concealing the fact that the ATV driver had himself been impaired by alcohol.

There was evidence that the ATV driver did not have a side-view mirror on his vehicle, was operating his vehicle on the road without lights, and swerved into a ditch in front of the defendant’s truck just before the accident happened. In light of this, the trial judge’s failure to provide the jury with more detailed instructions on what it means to “cause” an accident also unfairly prejudiced the defendant.

Under state law, a conviction for vehicular homicide required the prosecution to prove that the defendant caused the ATV driver’s death. Had the jury taken into consideration the ATV driver’s drinking and his various actions, which could be found to be negligent, it could have concluded that the pickup truck driver did not cause his death.

Source: Star Tribune, “New trial in death of ATV rider,” Nov. 21, 2011

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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