The New Mexico Supreme Court is set to review a case that should remind grieving families that a criminal conviction isn't necessary to pursue justice after a fatal auto accident. Civil lawsuits are also a way of holding negligent drivers accountable.
The case in question involves a motorcycle accident that took the rider's life in Santa Fe in 2009. A man with a lengthy record of drunk driving convictions was driving a truck that crashed into the motorcyclist and killed him.
The man with six previous drunken driving convictions and no valid driver's license was at a barbeque where witnesses said they believed he had been drinking. Another person at the barbecue offered to let the man test-drive a truck, and the man took up the offer.
While trying to make a turn, he collided with the oncoming motorcyclist, whom the man in the truck claimed he never saw. The cyclist died, and police suspected the driver of the truck may have been intoxicated. He told authorities that he had consumed alcohol about 12 hours before.
A field sobriety test was administered, but deputies opted not to arrest him. Instead, the plan was to let the man's girlfriend transport him to a local hospital, and there a blood draw would be taken to determine if he was drunk at the time of the fatal accident. The man claims he drank some schnapps while he waited for his girlfriend to return from getting her driver's license.
A blood-test showed his blood-alcohol content was 0.13 percent, which is above the legal limit of 0.08 percent for drivers.
He was charged and convicted of vehicular homicide, but a series of legal mishaps has led to his case appearing before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Regardless of the outcome of a criminal case, families of deceased accident victims still have the right to sue negligent drivers for wrongful death. Often criminal convictions seem too lenient in the wake of a fatal accident, and it may be possible to achieve the full measure of justice by holding a wrongdoer accountable in civil court.
Source: Alamagordo Daily News, "NM Supreme Court weighs reversal of vehicular homicide conviction of seven-time drunken driver," Milan Simonich, Aug. 31, 2013