Vehicular Homicide and Causation (Part 2)

by | Jan 21, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: Nonetheless, we presume that even if the State expressly limits its contention as in Buckley, the jury must still be informed that the State, to meet its burden, must persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the “the actual result was within the risk of which the actor is aware,” and if it was not, then the State has not met its burden. Notably, Buckley did not address the impact of the State’s position on the jury instruction. As we noted, Buckley was presented to the court on leave to appeal from an in limine evidentiary ruling.

Unless the State explicitly limits its contentions as in Buckley, the jury must be given the option to find causation under either of the two prongs, assuming there is evidence raising an issue as to remoteness, fortuity, or another’s volitional act. To find causation under the second prong, “N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3c requires the State to prove that in addition to recklessly causing death, the actual result ‘must not be too accidental in its occurrence or too dependent on another’s volitional act to have a just bearing on the actor’s liability.'” State v. Eldridge (App. Div. 2006). In Eldridge, two passengers died when the defendant drove into a tree. Id. at 488. To prove recklessness, the State presented evidence of the defendant’s intoxication. Id. at 489. But, the defendant blamed the collision on her intoxicated front seat passenger who, she said, tickled her, then pushed her face to the side, urging her to look at something. Id. at 491. We reversed the conviction because the trial judge failed to instruct “that the State was required to prove that the deaths of Eldridge’s passengers were not the result of ‘another’s volitional conduct’ or ‘accidental.” Id. at 500.

An “in limine” ruling is one that occurs before the trial begins. The idea is that certain evidentiary decisions should be made before the jury is impaneled so that the attorneys can effectively strategize and so that the flow of the trial is not interrupted with rulings that occur outside of the jury’s presence.