Vehicular Homicide by Proxy

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

This actually happened a few hundred feet from where I live, though I don’t remember hearing about it at the time. An intoxicated man apparently struck and killed two pedestrians at a roundabout, then collided with a taxi.

It’s a really poorly designed intersection. There’s a smooth, three-lane, one-way road that runs for about a mile, then stops abruptly at a roundabout with quite a bit of pedestrian traffic, especially at night. So people fly up the road, then zip around the circle without looking out for people crossing. It’s especially bad late at night when people coming home from the strip of bars on the street where this happened are probably in a state where they’re less prone to be looking out for cars. (I mean, so I’ve heard.)

Of course, poorly designed or not, it doesn’t excuse the this guy, who was apparently pretty drunk. He was been charged with vehicular homicide. I’m not sold on the appropriateness of that charge for drivers in these cases (although this guy didn’t help matters by fleeing the scene—twice).

But what happened to the guy’s girlfriend seems way over the top.

Erin Brown’s boyfriend was charged with vehicular homicide and assault. She had been in the passenger seat. But in a rare use of the law, police also are charging Brown with the same crimes.

She faces as many as three decades in prison.

Police and prosecutors says Brown violated a part of the highway safety section of the Tennessee Code that makes it unlawful for the owner of a vehicle to direct, require or knowingly permit the operation of a vehicle in any manner contrary to the law.

Allowing someone to drive your car when you know they are drunk, prosecutors say, makes you criminally responsible for their actions.

The District Attorney’s Office commonly charges vehicle owners with driving under the influence for allowing a drunk person to drive their car.

But the vehicular homicide charge, a felony, against Brown is the first of its kind in Nashville.

Brown apparently was drunk too, and in her state of intoxication,she improperly gauged the level of her boyfriend’s intoxication before handing him the keys.

I’m okay with finding some civil liability for Brown, here. But it seems awfully excessive to take this woman’s life away from her for a split-second error in judgment that indirectly led to her boyfriend unintentionally striking and killing two people.

Brown apparently set herself up for the charge by telling police she gave her boyfriend the keys because he seemed “less drunk” than she was. So she basically admitted she knew he was intoxicated. (Again—never, ever talk to the police. Get an attorney.) But I wonder. What if she hadn’t made that statement? Could she have been charged if she should have known her boyfriend was drunk? How obviously drunk would he have needed to be? What if he was, say, just a hair above the legal limit? How much of a duty do you have to determine someone’s sobriety before you allow them to drive your car?

Seems to me that this is a pretty good example of “just because you can charge someone with a crime doesn’t mean you should.”

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55 Responses to “Vehicular Homicide by Proxy”

  1. #1 |  StrangeOne | 

    I think you’re missing a “because” in that last sentence.

    Looks like a pretty clear case of the prosecutor trying to turn one crime into tow convictions.

    I can’t stand our societies double standards on intoxication. Sometimes in means an intoxicated woman can never consent to sex. Other times being intoxicated makes your more guilty of murder even in situations where you had no direct control over an accident. It’s almost as if alcohol either makes you helpless victim or a vicious monster based entirely on which charges a prosecutor wants to throw at someone.

  2. #2 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    C’mon Radley, our job-creating private prison industry needs two convictions for every crime to meet its growth projections. Why do you hate the free, er, incarcerated market?

  3. #3 |  Roho | 

    It almost seems like another double standard where a non-cop (untrained) is expected to exhibit perfect accuracy on a split-second assessment which police (trained) routinely mess up. Cops are consistently forgiven for overestimating (against us) or underestimating (for their own) a subject’s BAC. This includes similar cases where innocent bystanders were killed. But one of us does it – that’s 30 years in the slammer, scumbag!

  4. #4 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If you can get 30 years for hitting someone with your car, it’s a miracle anyone ever stops after they’ve hit someone.

  5. #5 |  Mario | 

    Seems to me that this is a pretty good example of “just because you can charge someone with a crime doesn’t mean you should.”

    Radley, don’t quit your day job: you have no chance making a career as a prosecutor.

  6. #6 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Poorly designed? They spent a couple of years putting that stupidity together. I remember pointing out at the time that I could have completed the work in the same amount of time using nothing but hand tools – and I’m dead serious when I say that.

  7. #7 |  Michael Chaney | 

    And, Re: Dave – What do you think she is, a police officer?

  8. #8 |  BamBam | 


  9. #9 |  Sinchy | 

    Radley, Though I’m not willing to say prosecutions in this type of situation are always reasonable, or not a product of prosecutorial overreach, I don’t see how you can characterize the girl giving her boyfriend the keys to the car as a “split second decision.” If they were out drinking together she had plenty of time to assess his drunkenness based on first hand information. She didn’t make a “split second” decision, over the time span it took for her to give him the keys, get into the car, start it up etc. she made an informed judgement as to his sobriety, and she could have reconsidered at any point in between. One might argue that the fact that she herself was inebriated should mitigate the level of punishment she should receive because she wasn’t thinking straight enough to make such a decision, but that excuse doesn’t fly for the driver so why would it for her?
    You don’t usually let cops get away with the “split second decision” excuse when they shoot and unarmed person (or dog), and rightly so, so why trot that language out here?

  10. #10 |  Radley Balko | 

    You don’t usually let cops get away with the “split second decision” excuse when they shoot and unarmed person (or dog), and rightly so, so why trot that language out here?

    I’ve written lots of times that I don’t think cops who make an honest mistake during a raid should be criminally charged. My problem is with the policy of raiding people suspected of nonviolent crimes.

    Also, how do you know they were together the entire night, or that she saw exactly how much he’d had to drink? The decision came when she decided to give him the keys.

    In any case, I don’t think she should be let off. I think there’s probably civil liability here. But it’s absurd and just vindictive to put her prison for 30 years, or really even to give her a felony record.

  11. #11 |  Joshua | 

    Of course the problem here is that we have juries — made up of citizens like you and me — who are willing to convict on charges like this. If the prosecutor knew that he couldn’t count on the possibility of a jury full of obsequious fools, then it wouldn’t be worth it to bring these kinds of charges. Prosecutors of this stripe are partially created by the juries that fall for their behavior.

  12. #12 |  Aresen | 


    You are missing the fact that anyone with any common sense is systematically excluded from juries.

  13. #13 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I actually have LESS of a problem with this than I do with DUI convictions where the drives has injured nobody and damaged nothing. Certainly less than I have with Cops arresting a drunk who is sitting in his car with the engine off.

  14. #14 |  La Rana | 

    Here’s the legal reason why this seems wrong:

    Criminal law generally requires mens rea (intent) and actus reus (act). Most violent crime requires only a general intent, i.e. you meant to do something that ended up causing what you are charged with, like a punch causing death. You may not have specifically intended to kill the guy, but your general intent to inflict violence that resulted in death is sufficient.

    Some crimes require a specific intent, i.e. you literally meant to do what you are charged with, like premeditated murder. In that case you have to have actually intented to commit the murder ahead of time.

    Intoxication is generally not a defense to a general intent crime, and thus, it appears that the Tennessee law only requires general intent. And that is whats wrong about it.

    The crime she is being charged with is essentially “consent.” And everywhere else in the law, consent requires that the party have sufficient capacity, e.g. cannot be drunk. You can’t be held to a contract if drunk, some aspects of wills fail if drunk, consent to sex or torts fails if drunk, etc. etc. To be consistent with this legal philosophy, the crime here should require specific intent, and provide intoxication as a defense to the requisite intent.

    So what seems wrong here is that the law doesn’t let you consent to anything else while intoxicated, except this. I suspect that the law does not expressly describe the needed mens rea, and a good criminal defense attorney and a smart judge could read a specific intent requirement into the law for exactly the reasons I just described.

  15. #15 |  Goober | 

    Two people are dead. If it were my wife or my mother who was killed, I don’t know if I’d feel much sympathy for this woman. It may seem like hte punishment doesn’t fit the crime on first blush but tell that to the daughter who gets to grow up without her mom now because these two wanted to go party and were too cheap to call a cab. Normally, i’d be with you, Radley, but in this case, I’m really not. She won’t do thirty years in prison, that’s just the maximum penalty for what she did. But she shouldn’t get away with civil penalties here. What she did was criminal as long as you except the premise that being intoxicated is not an excuse to break the law, which i do. If she is incapable of making good decisions when drunk, then she has the discretion to not get drunk.

    Do not forget how you would feel in this situation if your family member was killed. It isn’t like this was a fender bender. People died, and it could have been prevented if not for this woman’s horrible decision.

  16. #16 |  Goober | 

    La Rana – I don’t know where you got the idea that you can’t be held to a contract that you sign while dunk, but from my recollection of case law, you are mistaken. IANAL, so I will bow to your superior knowledge if you can produce the case that proves me wrong. However, I am pretty sure i am not…

  17. #17 |  Burgers Allday | 

    This is not a good development for bartenders and their employers.

  18. #18 |  Jim Wetzel | 

    ‘Two people are dead. If it were my wife or my mother who was killed, I don’t know if I’d feel much sympathy for this woman.”

    Isn’t that what the civil courts are for? If they’re feeling sufficiently unsympathetic, they should sue. Sounds to me as if a prosecutor has decided to get all vengeful on their behalf. To hell with that.

  19. #19 |  Jim Wetzel | 

    In #18, above: “they” = surviving relatives/spouse.

  20. #20 |  EBL | 

    This is one to watch. It may be the prosecutor want to leverage her to get the conviction on the boyfriend. Of course, if she was really soused, she might have been too impaired as to give consent to make her criminally liable.

  21. #21 |  A McGillican | 

    Radley, I have to disagree with you here. Drunk driving is a serious and in this caes dangerous offense. 30 years seems excessive, but this woman is very much responsbile to what took place; She made to the choice to allow her boyfriend to break the law and drive her vehicle in a reckless and dangerous manner which ended up killing someone. All she had to do to prevent the entire incident was say – “honey, we’re drunk, let’s call a cab”. This wasn’t a split second decision – it was reckless behavoir with deadly consequences.

  22. #22 |  EBL | 

    Jim Wetzel, the civil result may be just the available insurance (which could be minimal). I would guess a huge judgment might not be dischargeable in bankruptcy, but even that is not guaranteed. And even if they have assets, most people want more than money for losing loved ones under these circumstances. I can see why the family would want her scalp as well as the driver’s. I am not justifying what the prosecutor is doing, but it sounds like a pretty horrible situation all around.

  23. #23 |  EBL | 

    Radley, I do not know about Tennessee, but usually the penalties for vehicular manslaughter, with no priors, are less than 10 years and usually a lot less than that (like 1 to 3 years).

  24. #24 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    @#21 — “She made to the choice to allow her boyfriend to break the law…”

    Say WHAT?

  25. #25 |  Ranger Jay | 

    How about this scenario:

    The woman owns a gun instead. She lets her boyfriend hold it because he is “less drunk.” He accidentally shoots and kills two people while she is standing next to him.

    How much responsibility should she bear for such an incident? It would not have happened IF she had not provided the loaded weapon. Does her drunkenness absolve her of all criminality (unable to make a sound judgement about the weapon)? If there were a law against providing a weapon used in a crime (and I’ll bet there are many), why would she NOT be held accountable for two homicides?

    Automobile related deaths 2009: 33,808
    Heart disease: 599,413
    Cancer: 567,628
    Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
    Firearms: 31,347

    Various sources from quick Google searches…

  26. #26 |  StrangeOne | 

    #15 That makes perfect sense, we all know the fairest system of justice is founded on the emotional trauma of the victims. Or, in this case, what people on the internet assume is the emotional trauma of the victims, and getting all righteous and vengeful on behalf of their presumed emotions.

    Whether or not she deserves or will get thirty years in prison is beside the point of the prosecutor requesting that exact punishment. She, in an inebriated state, handed her keys to someone she thought was safe to drive. That is the extent of her ‘crime’. How drunk she actually was, or how drunk he was, or how drunk either of them appeared to be, are not questions any court will ever be able to definitively answer.

    Realistically, would putting either of them in prison improve anyone’s safety? The prosecutor is pushing for more prison time than are seen in most first degree murder cases, for a woman that gave someone her keys. I think the standard of how dangerous a person is before we justify segregating them from the general public and imprisoning them (at great cost) should be significantly higher than what this case has shown so far. If the facts change I’m more than willing to change my opinion, but I’m not going to agree with an effective life sentence for a bad judgement call and a tragic accident. The malicious intent of a dangerous criminal requiring lengthy imprisonment is just not there.

  27. #27 |  Sinchy | 

    Radley, thanks for correcting me as to your view of prosecuting cops for split second decisions and the distinction that you are against the situations that put them in the “split second” realm. But if you wan’t to hold police responsible for those unnecessary raids then we must hold people responsible when they choose to go to a bar with a car.

    Unless the boyfriend is willing to say that he told her that he was sober I can’t see how she isn’t partially responsible for this horrendous situation. I doubt 30 yrs serve the interest of society, and that should be the standard, not getting even for the victims.
    We know from the article, and that’s really all any of us in this discussion are going on, that she admitted that she thought he was less drunk than her, which means she gave it some thought. She wasn’t forced to hand over the keys or fall of a cliff in a moment, not a split second decision. The moment the keys left her hands into his was a split second, but as I wrote before she had time to consider her options from the moment she left the bar to the time the car started moving.
    This isn’t a situation where she does the responsible thing and calls her dad to pick her up and he shows up drunk but she’s too drunk notice. We have to assume she knew her boyfriend was drinking from her statement. If a drunk with a gun was fearful that he might hurt someone and handed it to a child, and the child shot himself, would inebriation be an excuse? No.

  28. #28 |  Mkn | 

    Will putting either of them in prison improve anyone’s safety?!
    OF COURSE! Only the safety of all pedestrians and drivers who they might otherwise kill with their next “split second decision.”

    Why do so many Americans think that any harm they cause with an automobile is not a “real” crime? Cars are like giant weapons that happen to have other peaceful purposes. It’s like he said “hey, honey, Light this fuse so I can shoot off this loose cannon into the neighborhood.”. And her response is “sure, whatever you say, I’m too drunk to think about this.”

  29. #29 |  DavidST | 

    I think the real problem is that they dug up an obscure statute to apply this charge. This kind of charge SHOULD exist, but people should be widely aware of it before it is applied. Willing passengers of drunk drivers should know that they can be charged as an accessory to whatever crime the drunk driver may commit with the vehicle. That might result in a few more cabs called or a few more drivers designated (and hopefully a few less people maimed or killed).

  30. #30 |  CyniCAl | 

    Meanwhile in Maricopa County, AZ … (please note the last graf, it is hilarious)

    Actor Steven Seagal, Ariz. sheriff’s office sued
    Associated Press – 13 hrs ago…

    PHOENIX (AP) — Actor Steven Seagal and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office are being sued over a 2011 arrest that a Phoenix-area man says was staged for a reality TV show.

    Jesus Llovera says Seagal and deputies unlawfully raided his home because they thought Llovera was raising fighting roosters.

    Llovera says the birds on his property were for show and not for fighting.

    The civil suit asks for a jury to determine unspecified monetary damages.

    The Arizona Republic ( ) reports the Sheriff’s Office was participating in the creation of a reality show, “Steven Seagal: Lawman,” that followed Seagal’s exploits as a deputized officer.

    The Sheriff’s Office insists in court documents that the use of a tank, a bomb robot and 40 deputies was part of its normal course of duties.

  31. #31 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    @#27 “Willing passengers of drunk drivers should know that they can be charged as an accessory to whatever crime the drunk driver may commit with the vehicle.”

    Why? That makes no sense whatsoever.

  32. #32 |  Zippy | 

    DavidST, she wasn’t just a “willing passenger;” she was the owner of the car, and she gave him the keys.

    Radley, when you go after prosecutors who hide evidence or rely on junk science, you’re doing God’s work. But I think that this emphasis has made you too emotionally sympathetic with defendants in general.

    The girl knowingly gave a drunk man the keys to her car. It was certainly foreseeable that somebody might die as a result. I’m not sure why you think that this is such an injustice — if I gave a drunk a gun and he shot somebody would you say I wasn’t culpable? Would it matter all that much if I was drunk too? Why should voluntary intoxication be a defense in any case?

    Put her in the slammer, I say.

  33. #33 |  William | 

    In TN it us a crime for a bartender or waiter to serve someone they know to be intoxicated. This essentially makes all bartenders criminals because we know that the .08 standard puts most of us drunk after finishing two drinks in under an hour. Running the risk of getting caught is just an occupational hazard.

  34. #34 |  JOR | 

    “But if you wan’t to hold police responsible for those unnecessary raids…”

    He just told you that he doesn’t want to do that.

  35. #35 |  Ariel | 

    #30 Zippy,

    30 years really? Nothing excessive there?

    If they were in a bar, shouldn’t we go for the bartender and the bar owner too? In this rare application of the law?

    However, don’t forget if they had sex she could claim rape as she wasn’t able to give consent. Suddenly, I have a feeling of cognitive dissonance…

  36. #36 |  Bergman | 

    Re: Roho, #3:

    I imagine the reasoning goes something like “If someone I know does something bad it must be an honest mistake; If someone I don’t know does something bad and claims it was an honest mistake, how do I know he’s not lying?”

    The problem is, since it’s police and prosecutors who know eachother, the end result is someone who has sworn an oath to uphold the law ends up held to a lower standard than someone who has not sworn when it comes to penalties for disobeying the law.

    Re: Zippy, #30:

    Yes, she was drunk, and was aware enough to realize her judgment was gone. So she chose not to drive. But knowing she was too drunk to be responsible, you still want her to be responsible in making an evaluation that trained professionals often have trouble with sober? Even though she lacks that training? It doesn’t work that way, nor should it.

  37. #37 |  Pugnacious | 

    @ #10

    This reeks of of the Mary Shields case, where a New Years Eve drunken brawl on a dancefloor at a Columbus, Mississippi jukejoint ended with her male assailant dying of a heart attack.

    The discredited Mississippi pathologist, Dr. Haynes, testified that the stress from the jukejoint brawl induced stress on an already diseased heart, causing his death.

    The judge in the case , Jim Kitchens, admitted that he knew the assailant threw the first punch on the dancefloor. No weapons were involved in the fight, other than the broken barstool leg.

    Sadly, Ms. Shields’ name was not on Governor Barbour’s recently pardons of former and current prisoners. The pardons were challenged by the Mississippi Attorney General, Jim Hood.

    The Miss. Supreme Court upheld the governor’s pardon decision by a 6-3 majority.

  38. #38 |  Zippy | 

    Responding to Ariel (#32), I don’t have any cognitive dissonance here. I don’t think that voluntary intoxication should ever be a defense to criminal charges or an excuse of any sort. If you’re hit on the head or drugged and you do something as a result, it’s a valid excuse.

    That I get. But if you voluntarily place yourself in a position in which your judgment is impaired, I think you’re morally responsible for choices that flow from the decision to impair your own capacities. If you can’t wander around safely while drunk, then get drunk at home. Or don’t get drunk at all.

    This is a perfectly reasonable libertarian line: intoxicants are legal, but people are responsible. Kill somebody in a drunken rage? Tough luck; you get the chair. Can’t support yourself because you’re a heroin addict? Die of starvation for all I care. Lose your teeth due to meth mouth? Eat baby food. Give a drunk guy the keys to your car, which he then uses to kill a couple people? To prison with you.

    So, for example, if I go to a party, get drunk, and end up in the sack with a really ugly girl, one whom I’d never ever bed while sober, I cannot claim she raped me. Likewise, if a supermodel agrees to have sex with me while she’s drunk, I don’t think she should be able to wake up and scream “rapist!” Now, if I drug the girl, or pour alcohol into her drinks without her knowledge or consent, it’s a different story.

    To me, the fact that Erin Brown was drunk is quite beside the point, assuming the intoxication was voluntary. She gave a drunk guy the keys to her car and consented to let him operate it. If she knew he was drunk, she should be responsible, and I don’t have a problem if that responsibility includes criminal liability.

    Now, responding to Bergman (33) — do I think that she should be held to a more strict standard than “trained professionals?” (BTW, isn’t that the kind of term that Radley would usually make fun of?) Probably not. To me, the question ought to be whether a reasonable person in her shoes would believe that her boyfriend was not capable of safely operating a motor vehicle. I don’t know the facts, and I doubt you do either.

    I’d certainly say that the prosecutor has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that she knew he was intoxicated enough that his ability to drive was impaired. If the prosecutor fails to do so, I’d say she should be acquitted. But if the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a reasonable person in her shoes would believe her boyfriend wasn’t capable of driving safely, then I don’t have a problem with ruining her life. After all, her actions pretty permanently ruined the lives of two people. The whole point of punishment is to inflict disutility on the people being punished.

    When Radley exposes junk science or actual police abuse or prosecutorial misconduct, I think he’s dead on. But I have zero sympathy for Erin Brown or her boyfriend; my sympathy is with the two innocents whom they murdered. Her life gets ruined because of a “split second” decision. My heart pumps peanut butter. Adults in this country are allowed to own things like guns and motor vehicles. I think that’s good — I believe in freedom, and treating people like adults. But those objects are tools capable of inflicting death or great bodily harm. It’s not out of line to ask the owners of such objects to refrain from giving them to drunkards.

  39. #39 |  Pugnacious | 

    Mary Sue Shields’ Letter To the Editor of the Columbus Packet:

  40. #40 |  Jerry | 

    Goober and A McGillican,

    You two are the reason why we have these inane laws about drinking and driving. The vast majority of people can drink, drive and get home and it’s not the epidemic that the government makes it out to be. Others cannot and thus we make stupid laws to try and stop the worst offenders (who couldn’t care one way or the other) and end up making criminals of all others caught up in the net.

    So I’ll ask you, hat makes this any different than a person who runs a red light and kills someone or speed and caused and accident and kills someone. Would it be any less tragic for the son/father/daughter/mother? What’s the difference, will you feel any less sympathy. At worst these drivers will get manslaughter.

    “Do not forget how you would feel in this situation if your family member was killed. It isn’t like this was a fender bender. People died, and it could have been prevented if not for this woman’s horrible decision. – Goober”

    I would feel the same no matter how they died, I would be upset but I would not want this lady to do anytime in jail. Not in my nature to want and eye for an eye. Both these people made extremely poor choices but putting her in jail wouldn’t really do anything for me.

  41. #41 |  Ted S. | 

    Almost every article/TV report on a drunk driver gives the driver’s BAC, spoken in emotional tones about how this is TWICE the (artificially lowered) legal limit.

    This article doesn’t give the driver’s BAC. More importantly, it doesn’t give the defendant’s BAC. What if she was drunker than he was?

  42. #42 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Likewise, if a supermodel agrees to have sex with me while she’s drunk, I don’t think she should be able to wake up and scream “rapist!”

    Is your daughter over 18 and where does she party?

  43. #43 |  Ariel | 

    Zippy #35,

    I should have been more clear: the cognitive dissonance is on the part of the legal system.

    And I have to agree with Jerry that we take much of this too far, more revenge than justice.

  44. #44 |  Radley Balko | 

    The woman owns a gun instead. She lets her boyfriend hold it because he is “less drunk.” He accidentally shoots and kills two people while she is standing next to him.

    How much responsibility should she bear for such an incident?

    I think both of them should be held civilly liable in that scenario. But no, I don’t think either of them should go to prison for 30 years.

  45. #45 |  JOR | 

    “To me, the fact that Erin Brown was drunk is quite beside the point, assuming the intoxication was voluntary.”

    If her drunkenness is beside the point, then so is his, and she shouldn’t be punished for letting him drive her car (unless you think everyone should be criminally charged for any crimes third parties commit using their property, regardless of intent).

  46. #46 |  StrangeOne | 

    It seems to me Zippy doesn’t understand what “murder” is. Murder requires a malicious intent, which did not exist in this case. I guess its human nature to assign autonomy after the fact. An unavoidable aspect of life is that people sometimes die for senseless reasons that no one intended to happen, that is not the same thing as murder.

    As tragic as these deaths are, no one’s bringing them back by serving X years of jail time. The general public will not have their safety improved by forcing either of these people to serve long periods of jail time. You talk about “inflicting disutility on people being punished”, and I ask you what good is that punishment in the first place? Other than fulfilling your personal vengeance fantasies, you’ve yet to coherently argue that ruining the lives of these two other people would serve any utility whatsoever.

    You’ve created a ridiculous standard for what murder is. By the philosophy you’ve outlined if a parent left their child with another guardian, and the child died from an accident, then the parent should get a murder charge. Somehow they should have magically known that an accident was going to occur and that their decision to do anything else is the malicious intent of murderer.

    You’ve changed murder from “unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human” to “any act taken by any person tangentially related to the death of someone else”. You might as well charge everyone in the Boeing corporation with 200 first degree murders every time a plane goes down.

  47. #47 |  Zippy | 

    She didn’t let him “hold” the metaphorical gun; she let him operate it. The right analogy would be taking your drunk boyfriend target shooting.

    I don’t understand why you don’t think that criminal liability is appropriate here. You keep saying it’s excessive, but never explain why.

    One of the predictable consequences of operating heavy, dangerous equipment when intoxicated is that somebody is that somebody may be injured or killed. If the boyfriend had donned a blindfold and started shooting a gun at random and he killed somebody, would it be excessive to put him in prison? If she gave him the gun knowing he was going to do that, wouldn’t she be culpable as well?

    Driving while drunk can cause injury or death to innocent people. These days, everybody knows that. So . . . why is it excessive to put drunk drivers who actually do cause harm in prison for long periods of time? And if somebody facilities that by giving a drunk keys to the car, why are they not subject to the same sanction?

    I just don’t get this bleeding-heartism. I thought libertarians were about personal responsibility.

  48. #48 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    It seems to me Zippy doesn’t understand what “murder” is. Murder requires a malicious intent, which did not exist in this case.

    She’s not being charged with murder, she’s being charged with homicide, which also includes manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter generally only requires proving recklessness; that is, that the defendant knew some action of theirs had a reasonable likelihood of leading to the death of some person and they chose to proceed anyway.

    Note, this still requires proving she knew her boyfriend was intoxicated, but this case they do know that since she already admitted this.

  49. #49 |  StrangeOne | 

    Stormy, I was referring to Zippy calling both suspects murderers. Not what they were charged with.

  50. #50 |  Anne | 

    It seems to me she and her boyfriend should both get the same punishment. They both made the decision together that he should drive the car. He’s not being punished for driving the car badly, he’s being punished for choosing to drive when it was inevitable that he would drive badly. She admits she knew he was drunk, so she made that choice just as much as he did. She was drunk, but then so was he. I don’t see any difference in their degree of culpability.

  51. #51 |  Zippy | 

    Strange, it was hyperbole. I agree that involuntary manslaughter is an appropriate charge in this case.

  52. #52 |  John Spragge | 

    Um, StrangeOne (#46), in many places the statutory definition of murder includes any intentional commission of an illegal act with a known probability of causing death. Driving drunk violates the law and carries a known high risk of causing death. In fact, the risk of dying in an alcohol fueled collision runs about five times the risk of dying in a botched robbery (based on statistics from the CDC and Bureau of Justice Statistics). Since anyone who provides a gun to a friend who then immediately sticks up a convenience store runs the risk of criminal charges, it seems inconsistent to exempt someone who offers car keys to a drunk.

    To answer your question about what it accomplishes to punish people who drive drunk or who facilitate drunk driving: it aims to make innocent users of public rights of way safer. It attempts to accomplish this goal by denunciation, disablement, deterrence. Punishment clearly expresses the public abhorrence of the behaviour; it prevents the offender from repeating the act, and it makes other people who might consider making a criminally bad judgment think twice.

    The question of whether the prosecution can justify the charges in this specific case turns on facts which a jury must weigh. The question of sentencing, of how many years a particular offence merits, belongs in the realm of public policy. But the record clearly indicates that the common default policy of assuming good faith on the part of car use has served neither the justice system nor the transportation system well.

  53. #53 |  DavidST | 

    If drunk people are accountable for bad driving and for short tempers, then they should be accountable for handing over their keys to other drunk people.

    The reason I think passenger’s of drunk drivers (even if they don’t own the car) should be accessories is because it is a common thing for the least drunk person in the car to avoid driving because they are the most responsible (hence worried about being arrested for drunk driving). Make them worry about being an accessory, and maybe the least drunk person in the car will do the driving (and drink less to boot). Maybe they call more cabs. Or maybe people will just stay home more often. I know a certain roommate of mine and myself did a lot more staying home after he got his second DUI.

    It really doesn’t matter. Our job isn’t to socially engineer, it’s to identify and penalize victim crimes. Accessory is a real crime, and those who sit in the passenger seats tacitly encouraging drunk driving, are helping to kill and maim innocent people.

  54. #54 |  Zippy | 

    DavidST, you’re going a bit further than I would on this. I’m not arguing that passengers ought to be held criminally liable in general for the driver’s actions. Rather, that if you give your car keys to a drunk person (knowing they are drunk) that this could constitute a predicate act for involuntary manslaughter. Not sure we want to consider all passengers accessories.

    In general, I think I agree with John Spragge. Punishment serves to deter others, to incapacitate the wrongdoer, and to provide retribution to society. All of those are legitimate reasons, and all apply in this case. Not sure she deserves thirty years, but her choice caused two innocents to die.

    I just don’t understand Radley’s whining on her behalf.

  55. #55 |  DPirate | 

    Well, if you are going to charge the drunken driver, then you should charge the drunken owner as well. She “misjudged” how drunk he was? That’s questionable at best, but the same excuse can be brought by the driver toward himself.

    I’d say DavidSt has it right, except for the bit about social engineering. It is definitely everyone’s job to engage in that.