Felony DUI and Causation

I was upset to learn that one of my clients was arrested for second degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter and felony DUI last week. At Gold & Witham, we make every effort to engage with our clients in an effort to make sure that they learn from the experience and never come back. We are not always successful.

The ex-client in question is a 19 year old who was already on probation for two separate DUI convictions at the time of the accident. According to media reports, he was involved in a multi car collision on the freeway resulting in the death of a motorist. The circumstances were complicated in that the victim first hit a mattress on the freeway, was then hit by my ex-client, and was then hit by two other vehicles.

The case will involve multiple issues, one of them being causation. The people have the burden of proving that a defendant caused the death. The jury instruction on point in a gross vehicular manslaughter case (CALCRIM 590) states that “An act causes death if the death is the direct, natural and probable consequence of the act and the death would not have happened without the act.

A natural and probable consequence is one that a reasonable person would know is likely to happen if nothing unusual intervenes….There may be more than one cause of death. An act causes death only if it is a substantial factor in causing the death. A substantial factor is more than a trivial or remote factor”.

The tragedy of this situation is that whatever happens with the criminal proceedings, the victim is dead and so many lives have been altered forever. The defendant, who is only 19, is facing years in state prison, his parents are heart broken and the victim’s family will face years of coming to terms with such an avoidable loss.

Dealing with these situations as a defense attorney is immensely stressful and difficult. This is a situation that we tend to face at Gold & Witham approximately once a year and it is a situation that we would prefer to never have to deal with. We will continue to educate our clients and engage them in rehabilitation as much as we can in an effort to prevent at least one such event occurring in the future.


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