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Vehicular Manslaughter & Maryland Law

Should Vehicular Manslaughter’s Laws be Changed?

In December of 2007, an undercover cop was speeding early in the morning on a public road. He hit another car, killing the other driver in the process. The victim in that case was a 20 year old man. The undercover cop admitted to drinking the night before the accident. The victims’ mother wanted the undercover cop to serve jail time for the crime. After a year long investigation the undercover cop was issued a traffic ticket and did not serve any jail time. Why? The state’s attorney said there was not enough evidence to charge the undercover cop with vehicular manslaughter. In order to charge someone with vehicular manslaughter the state must prove the person was ‘grossly negligent’. Grossly negligent may mean different things to different people. However, it has a very specific meaning in court. It almost requires “intent” or “malice” towards the individual injured in order to prove gross negligence.

The victim’s mother in the above case went to Annapolis to support a new bill that would make it easier for prosecutors to convict reckless drivers of vehicular manslaughter or a slightly lesser charge. The goal was to create a middle ground between simple traffic citations and major felony charges such as vehicular manslaughter. Currently the standards to which someone must be proven negligent is very high. With a common middle ground, drivers may be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a simple traffic ticket. The proposal could give the reckless driver up to three years of jail time.

It seems like a real anomaly in Maryland law if one could be sentenced to jail for littering, but not be sentenced to jail for taking a life in an at fault accident. This does not mean there should be no discretion with the sentencing judge. However, there should be alternative sentences available depending upon the seriousness of the offense and the facts of each case. Thirty states have implemented laws that allow jail time even if vehicular manslaughter is not proven. Many other Maryland residents and families of victims support this new bill. For example, a Rockville man was killed when riding his motorcycle after being hit by a truck. In that case, prosecutors could not meet the high standards of proving vehicular manslaughter. The trucker received a $500 traffic ticket. Many surviving family members were already distraught due to the accident, now they must watch as nothing is done to the at fault driver. This compounds the grief the family members have when they realize not only will they never see their loved one again; but, they will not see what they believe is justice either.

In the past this bill has not been passed. Why? The house judiciary committee chairman has failed to call a vote on the bill. Maryland legislative procedures indicate that the chairman has the ability to decide which purposed bills are able to be voted upon. So what can be done? Raising awareness to the public will create attention. Attention that is needed to help give this bill the consideration it needs. The committee chairman has said he has not decided if he will hold a vote on the bill this April. Perhaps if enough citizens expressed their displeasure with the existing state of the law in Maryland, a movement could be started to change the law.

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