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In The News

Monday, July 6, 2015

Moving Violation Causing Death in Michigan: A Good Result; an Unhappy Ending and A Question: Why Prosecute in the First Place

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Michael J. Nichols

A mid-Michigan man was recently given non-reporting probation, fines and costs after his conviction for reckless driving in a negotiated plea resolving 3 counts of moving violation causing death and 1 count of moving violation causing serious injury (4 counts total). Moving violation causing death is a law that is established within MCL 257.601d of the Michigan Vehicle Code. It is a misdemeanor with a maximum possible penalty of 1 year in jail and a mandatory license suspension of 1 year. "The license suspension is probably the hardest part about the law's penalties," says Michigan criminal defense attorney Mike Nichols of Meridian Township.

The law was re-written several years ago to replace the former "Negligent Homicide" statute because prosecutors were forced to convict people who drive negligently in car accident cases to prove negligence and further, it was a 2 year felony also known as a "high court misdemeanor." Nichols adds: "when the legislature re-wrote the law, it created a monster. The reason is that the prosecutor simply has to prove 2 things: 1. was there an accident that led to a death and 2. did the person accused commit a moving violation?"

In this case, a 72-year old driver appeared to have run a stop sign on a rainy weekday afternoon in the thumb area while on a drive with his wife and their friends. Another driver on a rural limited access highway was driving 7 miles an hour over the posted speed limit and "t-boned" the car. The result was the deaths of all 3 people in the elderly-driver's car, including his wife and best friend along with his wife. "I met my client for the first time after he was charged with the death of his wife and their friends. He was still crushed about the accident and remains grief-stricken," says Nichols. Nichols adds: "to now charge him with 3 misdemeanor counts as well as the misdemeanor of 'moving violation causing serious injury,' only compounds tragedy. It does nothing to help any recovery in a civil case - I just do not understand why we have to prosecute in the first place?"

Central to the "positive" result of a less severe misdemeanor with a 90 day driver license suspension as opposed to a 1 year suspension was the animation prepared by a physicist retained by the Nichols Law Firm that illustrated what was essentially a story problem. Nichols says "while the officers who investigated said the speed of the oncoming vehicle was not a factor, anyone who reflects on 'story problems' in elementary school can recall that if a vehicle travels faster than the posted speed limit it is going to arrive at a certain location at a different time than otherwise. Add to that, the decreased reaction time for the other driver and you have intervening negligence."

Intervening negligence can "break the chain" of causation between the driver's moving violation and the collision that led to the death under several Michigan cases that arise in different contexts such as drunk driving causing serious injury or drunk driving causing death. Nichols says "however, intervening negligence can be a high bar and prosecutors are still charging and letting juries sort it out under this law - to me it smacks of vote-pandering and compounding tragedy instead of prosecutorial discretion. All we need to do is insert into the law the requirement that the driver has to be grossly negligent in his or her driving and we can return the criminal law to where it should be: connecting a criminal intent to criminal liability instead of someone who just makes a mistake and criminal liability.

For the lawyers who are leaders in the law and committed to results, call the Nichols Law Firm at 517.432.9000.

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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.