Is "they were drunk/high too" a useable legal defense in a car crash

Continuing the discussion from Darwin in acttion :Speeding woman on cocaine kills drunk driver high on meth, police say:

You know that’s the first thing a defense attorney is going to say in court ," people of the jury if the other car wasn’t driving like maniacs maybe my client wouldn’t have hit them and just smashed a wall instead? Or maybe talk them away from the manslaughter charge?

I just realized that none of us in my high school driver’s education class questioned our instructor when she told us that if you’re driving while impaired (by alcohol or other drugs), then you forfeit any right of way and are legally presumed responsible for any crash that you’re involved in.

I’m looking forward to the Dope’s legal beagles’ responsese in this thread.

IANAL but it seems to me that driving is a personal responsibility. The irresponsible behavior of one driver does not in any way excuse irresponsible behavior of another. That they happened to collide with each other is merely coincidence.

and the counter-argument: “If she hadn’t been so drunk, maybe she could have swerved and avoided any accident at all, and the other person wouldn’t be dead.”

Back when I was in college a friend left a party to drive home. He struck a motorcyclist at an intersection. My friend had the right-of-way - the motorcyclist had gone through a stop/yield sign - but the police arrested my friend for driving drunk. I don’t know whether they cited the motorcyclist for failure to yield, and if they didn’t, I don’t know how much my friend’s intoxication might have factored into that decision.

Does the legal doctrine that you take your victim as you find them address this?

Eggshell skull - Wikipedia

It’s not a perfect fit to all aspects of this situation, but it seems to me that if one driver is unambiguously at fault for (say) swerving across a median into oncoming traffic, this doctrine should dismiss any defense that a sober victim would have had plenty of time to swerve to avoid being hit. That seems analogous to the textbook case of a murder victim dying because of a religious objection to blood transfusion.

[ I should add that I’m addressing a hypothetical where one impaired driver is unambiguously solely at fault for the collision. I cannot tell if that’s really the case here. ]

IANAL, but it seems to me that driving drunk is a crime regardless if you are in an accident or not.

Well, that article was super unclear about… well, everything. If I parsed it correctly, the other car (Meth + Booze) was attempting a U-turn when car two (Cokeajuana & Booze) driver by Butler struck it while doing over 30 mph over the posted limit. Both the driver and passenger were ejected, and the passenger’s status is not confirmed, while the driver of the struct vehicle is confirmed dead and had the reported substances in his system at the time.

IANAL, but I was a (non-injury to be clear) auto claims adjuster for years, and we always looked at comparative negligence. Normally, the car attempting the U-turn would have responsibility to yield, but it’s not clear what the visibility was in the area, as well as the fact that would they have had time to complete the turn if the other party had not been doing almost twice the posted limit (73 in a 40).

So plenty of blame to pass around. Certainly, it would be pretty easy to prove that if Butler had been doing the limit, that the damages would be far less severe regardless of the proximate cause of the accident. But the article also makes the point of Butler’s prior DUI, which I find likely to be far more prejudicial to their defense in the long run.

Unless Car One sues for damages, I don’t think this is going to trial though. Summer Butler is a lot better off considering the circumstances pleading to the minimum the state will allow - nothing is going to look good for her in a trial. Whether or not she gets a negligent homicide charge or not, she doesn’t get to dodge the possession charges or the DUI, her car confirms Reckless speed (since that’s at the discretion of NV enforcement rather than a specific # of miles over the limit), and there’s the other DUI just 5 years ago.

As for why it’s in the news, it’s clickbait first and foremost, but likely because she was offered bail 8/29 (which is relatively recent).

Unless it’s different in the States, that information does not get introduced at trial, only after conviction at sentencing.

Oh, sorry, I wasn’t clear. I don’t expect a criminal trial, I expect given that fact and others she’s very likely to take whatever plea deal the state offers, and that the likely scenario when she ends up at trial is some civil suit from the driver (deceased) 's family or passenger (status unknown) of the other car - who will certainly bring that up when they attempt to recover damages.

So my question is: what if they had been doing the speed limit? If wasted driver A had been driving along high af but obeying all traffic laws and wasted driver B turned into a U turn right in front them. Driver A survives but fails drug test, driver B does not.

What would the prosecution have to show to convict driver A of causing death by dangerous driving? Is it enough just to show they were impaired or would they also have to show that an unimpaired driver would have stopped in time? (Or is it up to the defense to show they couldn’t have stopped in time even if sober? And would the fact driver B was also impaired help this?)

If the other driver’s condition didn’t contribute to the accident then it should be irrelevant. If the other driver’s condition did contribute to the accident, but the other driver lived and a third party died then both of them could be convicted of murder in criminal court. If the other driver is dead though, it’s also irrelevant. In civil court the other driver’s condition could be considered as contributory negligence. Best bet is to say the other driver was actually responsible for the accident and they were committing suicide. It’s going to be tough to convince a jury with that story but at least the alleged victim can’t contradict you.

Again, IANAL, but in most traffic convictions it doesn’t have to be A or B is responsible, it can very easily be A & B are both responsible, and then it gets to comparative negligence. In the scenario you laid out, if Butler had been driving the speed limit (while impaired) and driver B was doing the U-turn (while impaired) the default assumption in most states is that the thru traffic has right of way (lots of little quibbles, but general rule).

In fact though, the article makes the point that Butler was acting erratically at the scene, which is why she was examined, her coke fell out of her bra, and she was tested. But sure, in a purely hypothetical it would be harder to prove for the criminal conviction that she responsible for negligent homicide. But again, most of us are talking about the follow-up civil lawsuit, where things get much more murky.

My question is, how does it? Is the burden of proof on the state to prove not just she was impaired, but that her being impaired caused the accident? I mean technically is her going 70mph in a 30 really proof of impairment causing the accident? (I mean maybe she drives like that when sober, and causing death by dangerous driving is generally punished less severely than causing death by impaired driving.)

Pretty sure what you want to look at is this:

The DUI portion, in your hypothetical, is a slam dunk, so we skip to the second part.

The best way to fight the allegation that the defendant caused the injury or death depends on the available evidence, such as:

  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Eyewitness recordings from phones
  • Law enforcement reports
  • Surveillance video
  • GPS records
  • Medical records
  • Accident reconstruction expert testimony

As long as the defense attorney can raise a reasonable doubt that 1) the defendant committed DUI, and 2) the defendant caused the victim’s injury or death, then the criminal charge should not stand.

So depends what the police report shows at the scene, eyewitness, etc - same as with pretty much any other major auto accident. In the actual IRL example, almost certainly a slam dunk here as well due to the speed, with the other parties action maybe being a mitigating factor, but not one that IMHO I think would reach reasonable doubt.

In the hypothetical where there was no speeding, then it would depend on the factors above. There isn’t a IF / THEN statement on how it would work. It would be back to the exact details of how the accident happened, and as the other party would normally have a responsibility to yield to through traffic, much more likely that you could make a case that their impaired ability caused them to make an unsafe turn. At which point, probably wouldn’t get the DUI with death, but would STILL get a DUI.

So in summary in the real world example, it doesn’t MATTER if the other party was drunk/impaired unless said other party was deemed to be the one directly responsible for the accident. Causing death/major injury while impaired is all that is needed. I could technically see that if the driver of the turning vehicle had survived and their passenger had lived (reverse of what happened) that BOTH parties could have had the same charges applied, IE DUI with death - because (again IMHO) both parties had comparative negligence although I’d put the speed factor as the most major as twice the limit would be more of an issue in terms of ‘what a reasonable person would expect’ when it comes to safely making a u-turn. And we have confirmation of that speed which is key.

Back when I was an adjuster, we were normally stuck with a he said / she said when it came to disputes about unsafe speed. We’d have to see if cops had documented rubber for abrupt braking and the like to try to get evidence in support or against. While I’m of many minds about certain factors of computerized cars, it sure makes it easier in this sort of case.