A deeply troubling Los Angeles case could raise some difficult legal questions. The police published a video of Three vehicles hit the same man in the middle of a street and then flee from the scene. The question is how will the drivers be charged once they are arrested?
The 50-year-old man was hit first by a motorcyclist, then by a car, and then by a third vehicle. All three drivers drove away. [This video contains disturbing elements]
The video shows that the drivers knew they met a person. The question is which driver could be charged with the murder or vehicle murder of the man (later identified as Jose Fuentes). He may have survived the motorcycle’s first hit, but the second hit was devastating. However, it is possible that he was still alive at the time of the third hit, although that seems unlikely. This will clearly be a question for the pathologist, but given the proximity of the effects, it can be difficult to determine.
Of course, the first hit left Fuentes in the helpless state that led to him being run over by the second vehicle.
A fee would be California Criminal Code 192 (c) for vehicle manslaughter:
Homicide is the unlawful killing of a person without malice. There are three types:
(a) Voluntary – in the event of a sudden argument or heat of passion.
(b) involuntarily – in the commission of an illegal act which does not amount to a criminal offense; or in the commission of a lawful act that could result in death unlawfully or without due care and attention. This subdivision does not apply to actions that are committed while driving a vehicle.
(c) vehicle –
(1) Unless otherwise provided in Section 191.5 subsection (a), driving a vehicle in the context of an unlawful act that does not constitute a criminal offense and with gross negligence; or to drive a vehicle on behalf of a lawful act that may result in death unlawfully and with gross negligence.
(2) Driving a vehicle in the context of an illegal act that does not constitute a criminal offense, but without gross negligence; or to drive a vehicle on behalf of a lawful act that could result in death unlawfully but without gross negligence.
(3) Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of Section 550 Paragraph 3 Letter a, in which the vehicle collision or vehicle accident was knowingly carried out for financial purposes and resulted in the death of a person in the immediate vicinity. This paragraph does not prevent prosecution of a defendant for murder.
This appears to be a cause of gross negligence, but there would be defenses due to the limited lighting and reaction time for drivers. However, drivers are expected to take such conditions into account when reducing their speed.
Then there are the obvious hit-and-run accusations. Under California law, there appear to be two options. Under Vehicle code § 20002 allows you to be charged with an offense if you leave an accident leading to property damage without giving your name and other information. This can result in up to six months in prison and three years probation (and up to $ 1,000,000 in damage). There is also a possibility that a criminal offense will be charged California Criminal Code Section 20001 where someone other than the driver has been injured or killed.
20001 (a) The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident that results in injury to someone other than himself or the death of someone must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and meet the requirements of Sections 20003 and 20004.
That can be charged either as a misdemeanor or a felony. The first and second drivers appear to meet the definition of the crime provision.
Specifically, the California Jury’s instruction requires that the driver caused death or serious injury. This increases the potential defense of the second and third drivers that Fuentes was already dead at the time of their contact. There is no question they escaped the scene illegally, but the more serious offense could result in three years in prison.
The prosecutors could falsify the difference, especially with the first two drivers. While the jury did not determine that the first hit caused Fuentes’ death, both drivers clearly caused serious bodily harm. In addition, the first driver could be subject to vehicle manslaughter, although forensics and pathology will be crucial in such an event. It is the third driver who could pose the most difficult problems if the defense could argue that he or she hit a dead body rather than a living person. That would still leave the misconduct charge, but criminal exposure is much lower in relation to prison time.
The second and third drivers would have been in a more defensible position had they stopped at the scene. In such a case, they could claim a lack of negligence due to the limited space and response time. Instead, they sparked the hit-and-run provisions, including possible criminal offenses.