Vehicular Homicide and Involuntary Manslaughter Case Histories
Interviewer: Can you think back and share case histories about some of your unique cases?
Paul Cramm: I represented a gentleman who was literally driving home from church on a late Sunday morning. It was in the fall and his church had a food drive for Thanksgiving. He had collected all sorts of food from the food drive that he was going to take down to the location for the donations.
He was traveling southbound and a woman was traveling northbound with her family, also on their way home from church. My client suffered from migraine headaches and had suffered from migraine headaches through most of his adult life. He’d had a migraine the night before and he had taken some relatively strong painkillers to address the migraine headache.
He remembers driving, he remembers seeing oncoming traffic and he remembers blinking his eyes and losing control of his vehicle. There was a head-on collision and the other woman driving was killed.
This gentleman had never been in trouble with the law in his life. He had no prior charges, no prior convictions and certainly when they did the blood draw and urinalysis, they found that there were metabolites of hydrocodone in his blood.
The issue in the case was whether or not the hydrocodone the following day administered at a clinical dosage caused sufficient impairment to be deemed the cause of the accident. This was because clearly there wasn’t any erratic or aggressive driving involved.
The parties could not come to a conclusion with regard to plea agreement in the case. We ended up trying the case to a jury and it was a jury trial that I lost. I remember feeling absolutely terrible that we had lost this jury trial. The jurors heard the evidence and they couldn’t come to any other conclusion for what must have caused my client to sort of drift away, if you will, from the driving task.
Why Is It Important to Have a Jury Trial in Some Cases? Can Character Count When It Comes to the Judge’s Decision on Sentencing?
He was convicted and he was facing close to four years in prison. It was one of those cases where trying the case was the best thing to do. I say this because after the judge had heard all of the evidence in the case and heard about my client, who he was and where he was going and what had brought him out on the road that day.
When he heard the police officers describe picking up all the canned food from the roadway that my client had collected for the food drive, we presented enough of a picture as to who this person was.
When it came time for sentencing, the judge granted my client a contracted probation and sent him home. I genuinely believe that had we simply entered a plea without agreement of the prosecutor and without having the opportunity to present over the course of two or three days, the real story of both persons in the accident, I don’t know that the judge would have been as receptive to a notion that my client deserved probation.
But at the end of that very difficult trial, where I really felt terrible about the outcome, in hindsight I believe having that trial is what presented such a picture of who my client was that at the day of sentencing. The judge granted him probation and the family members of the victim address the court and told the court that they’ve forgiven my client.
There was just a degree of personal healing that occurred that went well beyond the legal task at hand.
Most Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Cases Resolve in Six to Nine Months
Interviewer: How long do these cases typically take to resolve?
Paul Cramm: I think six to nine months is probably typical to have a case like this prepared for trial if in fact it is going to go to jury trial.
What Occurs during the Initial Arraignment?
Interviewer: What happens during the initial arraignment?
Paul Cramm: During the initial hearings in the case, we are simply trying to get the case scheduled for preliminary hearing. The state is trying to disseminate all of the police reports, witness statements and evidence for review by defense counsel.
We’re conducting our own independent investigation. We may have an accident re-constructionist working the case and reviewing the state’s evidence for us. It’s a great deal of paperwork and manpower hours getting ready for, what will be, we hope a successful preliminary hearing and pretrial hearings before we are at trial portion the case.
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