Court Issues Opinion in New York Vehicular Homicide Case Involving Marijuana Impairment

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drunk driving case involving the death of a motorcyclist and his passenger. The case required the court to review the evidence to determine if the defendant’s conviction for criminally vehicular manslaughter was supported by the evidence. Ultimately, the court concluded that it was, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence of one to three years incarceration.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was driving with three passengers in the car. As the defendant made a left turn, he hit a motorcycle traveling in the opposite direction. Both the driver of the motorcycle and the passenger died as a result of the collision.

Evidence presented at trial indicated that the defendant had THC in his system at the time of the accident. The defendant was convicted, and appealed, arguing that the prosecution failed to prove that he was “impaired” by marijuana at the time of the accident. The defendant also argued that, even if he was impaired, his impairment was not the cause of the victims’ deaths.

The court began its analysis by noting that someone is guilty of vehicular manslaughter homicide if they cause the death of another person while driving a vehicle while “impaired by the use of a drug.” However, the court acknowledged that the term “impaired” is not defined anywhere in the relevant statute. This required the court to get into an in-depth analysis of the distinction between the terms “intoxicated” and “impaired.” The court also had to reconcile the fact that, a driver who is “impaired” by alcohol is not able to be convicted of vehicular homicide; however, a driver who is “intoxicated” by alcohol or “impaired” by a drug is subject to prosecution for vehicular homicide.

The court explained that the lawmaker’s intent must have been to punish drivers more severely based on their level of impairment. Looking to relevant traffic laws, the court noted that impairment implies a higher level of functioning than intoxication. The court also noted that it made sense for lawmakers to impose more serious punishment for the use of drugs, thus only requiring “impairment” and not “intoxication.”

Ultimately, the court concluded that, to prosecute vehicular homicide based on the use of drugs, the prosecution must show the driver was “incapable of employing the physical and mental abilities which he [or she was] expected to possess in order to operate a vehicle as a reasonable and prudent driver.” This is the same standard used to assess vehicular homicide cases involving alcohol intoxication. Considering the evidence presented, the court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to find that the defendant was “impaired” by marijuana at the time of the accident.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York DWI Offense?

New York DWI and DWAI laws are exceedingly complex, as the case discussed above illustrates. If you are facing a New York DWI offense, or a related charge, the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark A. Siesel can help. We have extensive experience providing aggressive representation to clients facing even the most serious drunk driving charges. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 914-224-3086 today.

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