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Acquittal - Freak Traffic Accident not Criminal

Criminal Appellate Practice is what changed this case from a verdict of guilty to an acquittal.

After a jury trial, the conviction was one count of criminally negligent homicide (Penal Law § 125.10) and two counts of assault in the third degree (§ 120.00 [3]). The Defendants argues that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence. The standard is as follows: "A review of the weight of the evidence requires us to first determine whether an acquittal would have been unreasonable." People v Danielson, 9 NY3d 342, 348 (2007). The Court is required to "weigh conflicting testimony, review any rational inferences that may be drawn from the evidence and evaluate the strength of such conclusions" [and thus] " 'serve, in effect, as a second jury' with the power to 'independently assess all of the proof'. " People v Gonzalez, 174 AD3d 1542, 1544 (4th Dept 2019) (quoting People v Delamota, 18 NY3d 107, 116-117 (2011)). The Court is required "weigh the evidence and determine whether the People proved defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The court describes the facts as follows:

The incident giving rise to those charges was an accident involving multiple vehicles that occurred on Route 96 in Farmington after the driver's side wheel on the pickup truck defendant was driving came off and rolled into an oncoming lane of traffic. When the wheel came off, defendant, age 50 with no criminal record, was driving slowly on the side of the road with his four-way flashers activated. A delivery truck hit the detached wheel, tipped over and collided with a third vehicle, killing its operator, before colliding with a fourth vehicle and injuring its two occupants. On appeal, defendant challenges the legal sufficiency and weight of the evidence, contending that his operation of the pickup truck in a state of disrepair cannot be a basis of criminal liability.

Not every crash, whether a Driving While Intoxicated or a Reckless Driving charge, results in a criminal negligence. New York Prosecutors and New York Traffic Crimes often clog the dockets and are ferociously pursued. The pertinent facts that exonerate this driver are that "[a]n inspection of the driver's side wheel and truck after the accident established some significant problems with the wheel...however, that the severity of the problems could not have been known to the operator unless the wheel was removed from the truck." Car Accidents happen that are not criminal. Even a competent attorney could not convince the jury that the Defendant was not guilty of criminal negligence. On Appeal, the conviction is reversed. This case highlights the value of a New York Criminal Defense Attorney/New York Criminal Appellate Attorney.

In applying the law to the facts, the Court recites that the "evidence presented at trial failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was criminally negligent in his operation of the truck." Pursuant to Penal Law § 15.05 (4), "[a] person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result . . . when he [or she] fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur . . . The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation." With respect to the crimes at issue, "[a] person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, he [or she] causes the death of another person" (§ 125.10) and, as relevant here, a person is guilty of assault in the third degree when "[w]ith criminal negligence, he [or she] causes physical injury to another person by means of . . . a dangerous instrument," i.e., a vehicle (§ 120.00 [3]; see generally People v Cabrera, 10 NY3d 370, 375 [2008]).

In conclusion, The Court finds "that the People failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant engaged in some blameworthy conduct that either created or contributed to a substantial and unjustifiable risk [and] the evidence established that defendant failed to perceive a risk, which does not establish criminal negligence beyond a reasonable doubt." The Court "conclude[s] that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence..." People v Bleakley, 69 NY2d 490, 495 (1987). In removing a conviction from the People, "even if defendant could or should have perceived the risk that a tire on the truck would come off while he was operating the vehicle, the risk that the proscribed result...would occur was not substantial. In sum, this was a tragic and freak accident that does not give rise to criminal liability."

The case is People v Pinnock, 2020 NY Slip Op 06884 (4th Department, November 20, 2020), Cory H. Morris, Esq. New York and Florida, Injury, Addiction, Accident, Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, 631-450-2515 (NYS) (954) 998-2918 (FLA).


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