Who really did it?

What would you do if you woke up in the hospital, the last thing you remembered was being at home with your wife, and they told you had killed a man by driving drunk and you were going to prison?

That happened to a Massachusetts man a few years ago. They said he suddenly swerved into oncoming traffic. They said he had a legal amount of alcohol and a legal amount of precription pain reliever, combining to make felony DUI homicide.

The defense in these cases always seems to try to pin the blame on the car. But then something happened that isn’t at all normal.

A recall notice from Hyundai warned that the car had a steering defect and the dealer needed to reprogram the computer to prevent possible loss of control.

A police accident investigator testified the computer couldn’t have caused the crash, and the jury convicted.

And then something else unusual happened. The Appeals Court reversed the conviction.

The investigator went to vocational school and took an accident reconstruction course. He knew how the mechanical parts of a car worked. He had no idea how the computer in that car worked. He had not been present when Hyundai representatives tested the computer system and did not know what the test results were. He was not qualified to testify that the computer was not to blame.

So the case went back to the trial court with instructions that next time the unsubstantiated opinion of the accident investigator should not be used.

What would you do? The prosecutor still had two beers and Vicodin as evidence. The defense had a potentially rogue computer with no compelling evidence that it had actually picked that moment to lose its mind. Is that reasonable doubt?

We’ll never know for sure if the driver or the computer pulled on the wheel that day.

The court allowed a so-called Alford plea, where the defendant is convicted without admitting guilt.

Doubt about the steering computer turned a 5-7 year sentence into 645 days.

This is going to happen a lot more in the future as computers take over.

The opinions expressed in this post belong to the author and do not necessarily represent those of the National Motorists Association or the NMA Foundation. This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of this post or the included links.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment