Two summers ago, an 18-year-old girl from Buffalo New York was struck and killed by a drunk driver while she was riding home from work on her skateboard. The driver, a local doctor, was speeding, texting on his phone, and driving under the influence when he hit the young girl. He then fled the scene.
Prosecutors charged the driver with five felony counts, including manslaughter. The case proceeded to jury trial last May. Despite strong evidence against the driver – including undisputed evidence he had been drinking prior to the crash – the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all felony counts. He was found guilty only of a misdemeanor, and has since been released from jail.
Understandably, the victim’s family and other observers were horrified by the apparent lack of justice. Situations like this lead people to question whether our legal system is effective at holding drunk drivers accountable for the harm they cause.
The reality is that our criminal courts demand an extremely high burden of proof to convict. To find a defendant guilty, the jury must be persuaded “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest burden of proof that exists in this country, and it is designed to protect against wrongful convictions. Unfortunately it can also result in acquittals where there is substantial evidence of guilt.
However, in cases like the one in Buffalo there is another opportunity for justice. Victims and their families can bring a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver to recover financial compensation. In a civil case, a lower burden of proof applies. Instead of requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury only needs to be persuaded that “more likely than not” the defendant is responsible (also referred to as a “preponderance of the evidence” burden of proof).
Because the burden of proof is lower in a civil case, a drunk driver can be held financially responsible even if the driver was acquitted in a criminal prosecution.
Driving under the influence is a contributing factor in a great number of New York highway auto accidents. Alcohol and drugs affect a driver’s ability to control speed and vehicle movement and to react to other vehicles and pedestrians. This results in distracted driving, and can ultimately lead to head-on collisions and other tragic consequences.
At the Law Offices of Nussin S. Fogel, we hold drunk drivers accountable for the damage they cause, regardless of the outcome of a criminal prosecution. If a drunk driver has harmed you or a loved one, rest assured our attorneys will pursue every civil remedy available to make sure you are compensated. Contact us today for a free consultation at 646-736-2777 or 212-385-1122 to learn more.