Why Are Murder Verdicts So Rare For Drunk Driving?


Murder verdicts in auto accidents are rare, but a Long Island, N.Y., jury last week convicted Martin Heidgen, 25, of murder for killing two people in a head-on collision with a limousine in 2005. The New York Times says advocates, prosecutors, and defense lawyers are still trying to figure out its implications. Heidgen, an insurance salesman returning home from a party, had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit. He was driving the wrong way on a highway when he plowed head-on into the limousine carrying a family driving home from a wedding. He killed the chauffeur and a 7-year-old girl.

Of the more than 13,000 alcohol-related driving deaths last year in the U.S. prosecutors are aware of only a few murder cases each in Texas, California, and New York. “There is a certain psychological barrier there,” said Marcia Cunningham, director of the National Traffic Law Center of the National District Attorneys Association. “The combination of these two familiar activities [drinking and driving] makes for a certain, what have you, difficulty with the word 'murder.' ” Steve Oberman, a Tennessee defense attorney and co-author of “Drunk Driving Defense,” said, “The terrible part about intoxication is that once you become intoxicated you lose the ability to know that you should not be doing certain things, including driving. It doesn't make it any easier on the family of the victim. But people do make mistakes.”

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/weekinreview/22vitello.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

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