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Pennsylvania Court Overturns Convictions for Third-Degree Murder and Aggravated Assault in DUI Case

Drivers the cause fatal collisions while they are intoxicated typically are not only charged with DUI crimes but also with more serious offenses, including aggravated assault and third-degree murder. The prosecution bears the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt for such crimes, and as demonstrated in a recent Pennsylvania DUI case, it can be challenging for it to do so, as it requires proof that the defendant acted with malice. If you are charged with causing a DUI collision, it is in your best interest to speak with a Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer about what defenses you may be able to assert as soon as possible.

The Subject Accident

It is alleged that in December 2019, multiple cars were made to the police about a white SUV that was speeding and driving erratically on I-95. Shortly thereafter, police and an ambulance arrived on the scene of an accident between the defendant, who was driving a white SUV that matched the description of the vehicle in the calls made to police, and a van. The van was engulfed in flames.

Reportedly, two of the men in the van were able to extract themselves and seek medical treatment, while the other two died from their injuries. Chemical testing revealed the defendant’s BAC to be .151 percent at the time of the crash. He was charged with third-degree murder, aggravated assault-serious bodily injury, multiple DUI crimes, and other offenses. He was convicted, after which he appealed.

Proving Guilt for Third-Degree Murder and Aggravated Assault

The sole question presented on appeal was whether the evidence offered at trial was sufficient to sustain the defendant’s convictions for third-degree murder and aggravated assault-serious bodily injury, where the prosecution failed to establish that the defendant acted with malice as required under Pennsylvania law. The court ultimately determined that it was not and reversed the defendant’s convictions.

The court explained that third-degree murder and aggravated assault-serious bodily injury include the same elements of malice. Specifically, the prosecution must show that the defendant grossly deviated from the reasonable person standard of care, neglecting to perceive that such behavior may create a significant and unjustifiable risk of death or serious bodily harm.

The court went on to note that motor vehicle collisions rarely give rise to evidence of the malice needed to sustain convictions for such crimes. Further, the court stated that the decision to drive while intoxicated, in and of itself, does not constitute malice. In the subject case, the court ultimately found that the prosecution failed to prove that the defendant acted with malice at the time of the accident. Thus, it reversed his convictions for third-degree murder and aggravated assault-serious bodily injury.

Speak with a Skilled Pennsylvania DUI Defense Attorney

People charged with DUI-related homicide and assault crimes can face serious penalties if they are convicted, but the prosecution often lacks the evidence necessary to establish guilt. If you are accused of a DUI offense, it is wise to speak to an attorney about your options for protecting your interests. Zachary B. Cooper is a skilled Pennsylvania DUI defense lawyer with the knowledge and experience needed to help you seek a favorable outcome, and if you hire him, he will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach Mr. Cooper through the form online or at (215) 542-0800 to set up a conference.