A Wayne County Circuit Court judge committed a reversible error when he suppressed the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the victim in a reckless driving causing death case in 2017. The Wayne County Prosecutor successfully fought to keep this critical evidence from being introduced by the defendant at trial and as a result, the defendant was convicted. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the defendant’s conviction and found the evidence, which was critical to the defendant’s defense, should have been admitted.
Basically, the facts of the case were that Defendant slammed into the rear end of decedent’s vehicle causing his death. Defendant testified that the decedent pulled suddenly into his lane causing him to lose control. The defense sought to introduce the decedent’s BAC of 0.201 to show contributory negligence. In other words, the criminal defense lawyer argued that the defendant’s testimony that the decedent was driving erratically was corroborated by his superdrunk level BAC. The trial judge granted the prosecutor’s request to keep that critical information from the jury and the defendant was found guilty.
Establish reasonable doubt and thus an acquittal at trial
The appellate court found that the trial judge’s ruling on the BAC evidence was an abuse of discretion. The panel held that defendant’s testimony, when coupled with evidence of the decedent’s extreme intoxication, was sufficient to create a question of fact regarding the decedent’s gross negligence such that the decedent’s conduct may have superseded defendant’s reckless driving and severed defendant’s criminal liability. This is a complicated way of saying that the evidence of the high BAC combined with the defendant’s testimony about the decedent’s sudden lane change in front of his car may have been enough to establish reasonable doubt and thus an acquittal at trial.
On appeal, it is not enough for a defendant just to show that there was a significant legal error in the trial. For a conviction to be reversed, the defendant must also show that the outcome of the trial might have been different had the error not been made. If the defendant fails to show the error may have impacted the verdict, the error is called harmless and the conviction gets affirmed. In this case, because failure of proximate causation was defendant’s only defense to the charge of reckless driving causing death, the appellate court found that it was more likely than outcome determinative and that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.
Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s ruling
As an aside, the prosecution appealed the trial judge’s suppression of defendant’s old OWI and OUIL convictions, which the prosecution wanted to present to the jury. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial judge’s ruling on this issue and found that the old convictions were irrelevant to the question of whether defendant’s reckless driving was a proximate cause of the decedent’s death. This propensity evidence was properly suppressed under M.R.E. 404(b) and 403.
People v. Thabo Jones; unpublished opinion of 10-31-17 (COA# 330759)
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