Vehicular Homicide and Causation (Part 3)

by | Jan 23, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: In Jamerson, the Court also noted that essential to the defendant’s causation defense was his contention “that the collision was so dependent on the victim’s volitional act.” The Court held that it was harmful error to admit a medical examiner’s opinion about what caused the accident, because it undermined the defense that the victim’s failure to obey a stop sign caused the accident. Id. at 343. In sum, as the Court later observed about Jamerson, “the victim’s alleged disregard of the stop sign was relevant to . . . both prongs of N.J.S.A. 2C:2-3(c), because that driving error, rather than defendant’s impaired driving, could have caused the fatal accident.” Buckley, at 265-66.

Just as both prongs were in issue in Jamerson and Eldridge, they were in issue in this case. Therefore, the court was required to deliver the model jury instruction that explains both forms of causation, molded appropriately to the facts.

Furthermore, the court erred in rejecting defendant’s request that the court instruct the jury about the law governing crossing outside a crosswalk. Two aspects were relevant to the victim’s actions. First, the law states, “No pedestrian shall leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield or stop.” Second, the law states, “Every pedestrian upon a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.”

The court raises interesting questions that will likely have to be answered by the New Jersey Supreme Court. One is whether a defendant should contemplate that pedestrians will sometimes break the law with regard to crosswalks. Another is whether the law-breaking is too probable to excuse the defendant’s conduct.