21 February 2011
“Vehicular Homicide: Manslaughter or Murder”
There is a growing debate of whether a person causing an automobile accident, while driving under the influence of alcohol and subsequently killing another person in another vehicle, be convicted of murder rather than vehicular manslaughter. Do the actions of an accused drunk driver indicate a complete “depraved indifference” to human life? Alternatively, are these simply tragic accidents due to unfortunate circumstances, which should lead to convictions of manslaughter? To prove murder, the prosecutor must show evidence establishing that the accused understood his actions and recognized the consequences. On the other side, the defense attorney must prove that the incident was a terrible accident and there was no intent to kill.
On August 2, 2009, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment “Is It Murder.” 60 Minutes correspondent Bob Simon reported on a DUI homicide case involving the deaths of two people. 7-year-old Kate Marie Flynn and limousine driver Stanley Rabinowitz killed in a head-on automobile collision. The drunk driver, Martin Heidgen a 24-year old insurance agent caused the accident while suffering only minor injuries. Heidgen’s blood alcohol content was over three times the legal limit. Earlier that night Heidgen’s friends asked him not to drive. He chose not to listen and consequently caused the accident.
Kathleen Rice, a district attorney in Nassau County, New York prosecuted the case. She states, “A 7-year-old girl is beheaded. The Driver of the car is crushed to death. I think too many people think about drunk driving crashes, or accidents as people like to call them, as, you know, driving off the road. Or rolling through a red light. These crimes are incredibly violent.” Rice charged Heidgen with murder by depraved indifference, because he acted recklessly. Rice said, “His actions made the deaths of Katie Flynn and Stanley Rabinowitz inevitable.”...