Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Appellate Court Decides Case of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide Based on Recklessness

Three Ways to Commit Aggravated Vehicular Homicide
To prove a defendant committed the offense of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide in Ohio, the prosecution must prove the defendant operated a vehicle and caused the death of another person in one of the following three ways:

  1. as a proximate result of committing the offense of Operating A Vehicle under the Influence (‘OVI’-what Ohio calls DUI);
  2. recklessly;
  3. as the proximate result of committing a reckless operation offense in a construction zone.

The second way of committing the offense, recklessly, was at issue in the case of State v. Beard.

Was the Dump Truck Driver Reckless?
The defendant was a dump truck driver.  He was running late when he drove his truck to a construction site and dumped the load without using a spotter to ensure no overhead obstructions would be hit.  He drove away from the site with the bed of the truck still raised, and the raised truck bed hit an overhead sign.  The sign fell into a pickup truck and killed the driver.  The defendant was charged with Aggravated Vehicular Homicide for causing the death of another person by operating the vehicle recklessly.

The defendant was found guilty of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide.  He appealed his conviction to the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals, claiming the conviction was against the manifest weight of the evidence.  There was no dispute the defendant operated a vehicle and caused the death of another person.  The disputed issue was whether the defendant was reckless.

‘Recklessly’ Defined
In Ohio, a person acts recklessly when, “with heedless indifference to the consequences the person disregards a substantial or unjustifiable risk that the person’s conduct is likely to cause a certain result or is likely to be of a certain nature”. A person is reckless with respect to circumstances when, “with heedless indifference to the consequences the person disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such circumstances are likely to exist”.

‘Recklessly’ Analyzed
The appellate court cited several factors which indicated the defendant acted recklessly.  First, the defendant was aware of the danger of driving the dump truck with the bed raised, as the peril of doing so was communicated to the defendant by his employer.  Second, the defendant was aware the bed was raised.  There was a fully functioning warning light in the truck indicating the bed was raised, and the defendant admitted the bed was still raised (but was being lowered) when he drove away from the site.  Third, the defendant did not have a spotter when he dumped the load, and a spotter was necessary due to the overhead signs and a bridge at the construction site. 

The court of appeals implicitly concluded the defendant, with heedless indifference to the consequences, disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risk the truck bed was raised and may hit an overhead object.  Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Recklessness is in the Mind of the Defendant
Recklessness is subjective.  The question is not what a reasonable person would be thinking under the circumstances.  The question is what the defendant was thinking under the circumstances.  Was he aware of the risk, and did he disregard the risk with heedless indifference to the consequences?  In the case of State v. Beard, the jury and the appellate court concluded the answer was ‘yes’.

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Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy is a DUI/OVI lawyer in Columbus, Ohio. He is the former President of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the state delegate to the National College for DUI Defense and a long-time member of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. Shawn Dominy authored the books 'Ohio DUI/OVI Guide', 'Ohio Vehicular Homicide Guide', and 'Ohio Vehicular Assault Guide' (Rivers Edge Publishing) and wrote a chapter in the book 'Defending Vehicular Homicide Cases' (Aspatore Publishing, 2012). He has several other published articles, and he speaks regularly at seminars teaching other lawyers about DUI/OVI. Shawn was named by SuperLawyers® as one of the top 50 lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, and he is listed as one of the 'Best Lawyers in America'® for DUI Defense. Shawn is a lifelong resident of central Ohio: he graduated from Olentangy High School and earned his bachelor’s degree and juris doctor from The Ohio State University. His office is in Columbus, and he lives in Powell with his wife and daughter. He serves with local community organizations, volunteers regularly at his church, and plays regularly with his German Shepherd. For more information, Shawn’s website is www.dominylaw.com, his blog is www.columbusoviattorneyblog.com,

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