According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, a Milford teenager is now facing charges of vehicular homicide. Specifically, the article states that a sixteen-year-old teenage girl crashed her car into a thirteen-year-old Hopkinton boy in September of 2013. The boy died shortly after the collision.
There are two potential ways in which the Commonwealth can charge an individual for motor vehicular homicide: under G. L. c. 90, § 24G(a), which is a felony, or under G. L. c. 90, § 24G(b), which is a misdemeanor. Under the felony charge, the Commonwealth would have to prove the following beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) that the teen operated a motor vehicle; (2) on a way or in a place that the public had access, or in a place where members of the public have access as invitees or licensees; (3) that while the teen was operating the vehicle, she had a percentage, by weight, of alcohol in her blood of .08% or greater, or was under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or was under the influence of drugs; (4) that the teen operated the vehicle in a manner which is considered “reckless” under the laws of Massachusetts, or that the teen operated the vehicle in a negligent manner so that the lives and safety of the public might have been endangered; and (5) that the teen’s actions cause the death of another person. Under the misdemeanor charge, the elements are essentially the same, however rather than requiring proof of both the third and fourth elements, the Commonwealth must prove just one or the other. In other words, the Commonwealth must prove either that the teen had a percentage, by weight, of alcohol in her blood of .08% or greater, or was under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or was under the influence of drugs or that she operated the vehicle in a manner which is considered reckless under the laws of Massachusetts, or operated the vehicle in a negligent manner so that the lives and safety of the public might have been endangered. Although the article doesn’t specify whether the teen is charged with the misdemeanor rather than the felony, it appears that it is safe to assume that this is case because there is no indication whatsoever that the teen was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.
As to the final element under both sections of the statute, the teen caused the death if her actions directly and substantially set in motion the entire chain of events that produced the boy’s death. The teen is the cause of the death if her actions produced it in a natural and continuous sequence, and the death would not have occurred without her actions. There may be more than one cause of a person’s death. The Commonwealth is not required to prove that the teen was the only cause of the boy’s death, but it is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the teen caused the death in the sense that she directly and substantially set in motion a chain of events that produced the death in a natural and continuous sequence. If the teen’s conduct would not have brought about the death all by itself, without the intervention of some other person or event, she is still held responsible as the cause of the death if two conditions are met: first, the teen’s actions directly and substantially set in motion a natural and continuous sequence of events that caused the death; and second, that a reasonable person in the teen’s position would have foreseen that her actions could easily result in serious injury or death to someone like the victim. If both of these two conditions are proved beyond a reasonable doubt, then the girl is responsible as the cause of the death, even if there were other cause(s) that contributed to some degree in producing the fatal result. On the other hand, the law does not consider the teen to be the cause of the death, and therefore she must be acquitted, if some other person or event was the direct and substantial cause of the death, and the teen’s actions were only a minor and remote link in the chain of events leading to the death. The girl would also have to be acquitted if the death would not have occurred without the intervention of some other person or event, and a reasonable person in the same circumstances would not have foreseen the likely possibility of such a result.
While the death of the thirteen year old is tragic under any circumstances, the teen driver may well have a defense to the criminal charges. Specifically, even though she was cited for speeding, it is unclear if she was reckless or negligent in any other way. There is some support in current case law for the idea that speeding alone may not be enough to support a finding of negligent operation. Given the fact that it is unclear just how much she was speeding, even being over the speed limit may not rise to the requisite level of recklessness or negligence. For example, if she was only driving five miles over the speed limit, it is questionable as to whether this would be sufficient to find her guilty unless there was some other negligent conduct.
No matter what potential defenses the teen has however, her involvement in this case undoubtedly weighs heavily on her and her family. She is in need of an attorney who will stand up and fight to protect her interests, even in the face of these very difficult circumstances. If you or a loved on has been similarly charged, you will likewise need an attorney who both understands and is sympathetic to your situation, and who will effectively and persuasively fight for you in the courtroom. Attorney Daniel Cappetta has represented numerous clients in challenging cases. Call him today so that he can put his expertise to use for you or your loved one.