Who’s watching?

I wrote previously about a crash in Springfield, Massachusetts in which four young people died. A followup article has a lesson about how much we are watched, and how little watching prevents crime.

On January 17 a car with five occupants crashed into a tree while fleeing police. Only one person survived. He was identified as the driver and charged with four counts of manslaughter. He probably fled because he was an unlicensed driver in a stolen car.

A police report describes the evidence.

The crash was caught on video. A business next door has a surveillance camera. It shows a car hitting a tree and police arriving on scene 30 seconds later. A block earlier, the fleeing car passed by a school’s surveillance camera. A block before that, the car turned quickly from a side street without stopping for a stop sign. Police were 10 seconds behind. Another camera was watching.

15 minutes earlier and another block away, a fourth surveillance camera spotted two girls getting into the car.

Three days earlier, a surveillance camera watched two black males stealing the car in Milford, Connecticut. It was unlocked with a key inside.

The spies were not only cameras. A device “provided by the insurance company” monitored driving speeds, which reached 105 mph. The “black box” said the car was going 74 miles per hour when it crashed.

None of these devices prevented or deterred a crime. The video of the chase confirms what live witnesses are already prepared to say.

The video of the girls getting into the car is useful because it strongly suggests that they were not driving, and one of the two black males in the car was driving.

Before the crash, police didn’t follow up on the video of the theft. They didn’t let the insurance company’s device lead them to the car. (They could get a warrant to track its cell phone transmitter.) After the crash they recognized the defendant in the video.

The “black box” speed report is cumulative, not important. There is sufficient other evidence that the car was being driven dangerously. There was sufficient other evidence that the car was speeding.

Police actually piled a speeding ticket on top of the felony charges. Because that’s what they’re programmed to do. Write as many speeding tickets as possible. Often these piled-on charges are “placed on file”, which means there is no additional punishment.

Police didn’t mention a warrant to search the car. They may not need one because the owner is cooperating. Just like I can let police into my house to arrest you, a car’s owner may be able to let police in contrary to the wishes of the thief who was driving.

The defense lawyer has a tiny bit of hope. It’s clear that a crime was committed, but was the defendant the driver or an innocent victim? Video shows that one of the two black men in the car was driving. If jurors really believe it’s 50-50 chance that the other guy was driving, they should acquit.

Two bits of evidence say they got the right guy.

A low quality video supposedly shows the defendant stealing the car. I can’t make out a face in the low resolution version available online. The jury will see a better version. (By the way, “all those people look the same” is the law in Massachusetts. A white person’s identification of a black person is considered less reliable in court. And vice versa.)

Police on the scene thought the relative positions of bodies in the car put the defendant in the driver’s seat. There may be room for doubt. After such a violent crash people got thrown around inside.

There is room for doubt, but I’m betting on a conviction. Or a guilty plea.

Is the owner in trouble?

In Connecticut the owner of a car is presumptively responsible for crimes committed by the driver. In Massachusetts the owner of a car is presumptively liable for harm done by the driver. A theft report does not end that responsibility, but the jury could choose to let the owner off the hook.

There have been cases in some jurisdictions where leaving a car unlocked, or leaving a car locked with a key inside, makes the owner responsible for crimes committed by car thieves.

I don’t think they’ll charge the owner, and claims will be settled within policy limits, but it’s a good reminder to lock your car.

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.

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