Many of us watched the Super Bowl this past Sunday where Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won his 7th title against former Philadelphia Eagles Coach Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs. Prior the game, however, Reid’s son, Britt, was involved in a car accident where 2 children sustained serious injuries. According to new reports, Reid’s son admitted to have 2-3 drinks prior to the accident. Police also obtained a search warrant to obtain Reid’s blood to determine if he was impaired.
Police continue to investigate this incident. Results of that chemical tests are still pending and the legal limit for drunk driving in Missouri, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey is .08. It is unclear if Britt refused to submit to blood draw but it is highly unlikely that police would have obtained a warrant if he had voluntarily submitted to one.
Mr. Reid remains uncharged and deserves the presumption of innocence even police do arrest and charge him with a crime. While local authorities have yet to charge Reid with any crime, he could face criminal charges even if the blood test reveals he was under the legal limit for drunk driving. This case sadly presents an opportunity to explain various aspects of drunk driving cases, specifically those involving accidents where victims are either seriously injured or killed.
Drunk Driving Defense
Our criminal defense law firm with offices in Philadelphia and South Jersey represents individuals charged with drunk driving in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It’s important to understand that regardless of the jurisdiction, the burden is always on the prosecution to prove a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden applies to each and every element. In a drunk driving case a critical element is impairment, in addition to establishing actual physical control of the vehicle (i.e. operation).
If a person is charged with General Impairment DUI, the prosecution does not need to prove a specific BAC level but only that the person was incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle on the road in Pennsylvania (Section 3802(a)(1)) (New Jersey 39:4-50). This could be very important in Reid’s case if police do charge him with drunk driving. While the chemical evidence against Reid (blood test) would be strong evidence, police don’t necessarily need it.
To meet its burden of proof the prosecution may attempt to introduce both direct and circumstantial evidence which can include, but is not limited to, the individual’s actions and behaviors, including the manner of driving, the ability to pass a field sobriety test, the person’s demeanor, his or her physical appearance, and other physical signs of intoxication.
It is important to keep in mind that the prosecution is not required to prove the person actually consumed alcohol but only that he was incapable of safe driving due to some impairment, which can include the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. In the Reid case, his statement about his consumption prior to the accident and his appearance would all be admissible against him as direct and circumstantial evidence. In many drunk driving prosecutions a key piece of circumstantial evidence that the prosecution attempts to introduce is a vehicle accident involving personal injury or property damage.
Impairment at the Time of Accident
If a person is charged with an accident DUI, the prosecution must establish impairment at the time of the accident. Keep in mind that even if police come upon a person who is intoxicated after an accident, this is not proof beyond a reasonable that the person was driving while impaired at the time of the accident. The prosecution must establish a temporal connection between the accident and the person’s impairment.
Admitting to Alcohol Consumption and DUI
Even if a person admits to police that they had consumed alcohol earlier that day, like in Britt Reid’s case it is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or had imbibed a sufficient quantity of alcohol to render the person incapable of safe driving. Even if the prosecution can establish the defendant had an odor of alcohol, appeared confused, and failed his field sobriety test, they must still relate back the person’s condition at the time when they came in contact with police to the time the person was driving. This can be very difficult if not impossible!
This is frequently a situation where police arrive after the crash and there are no witnesses to testify as to how the crash occurred or the person’s condition following the accident.
Aggravated Assault By Vehicle While DUI vs. Aggravated Assault By Vehicle Non DUI
Even if police find the Reid wasn’t impaired at the time of the accident, they can still potentially charge him with aggravated assault by vehicle. Like Missouri, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey a person commits an aggravated assault by vehicle (non-DUI) when he or she recklessly or with gross negligence causes serious bodily injury to another person. This is a felony of the 3rd degree in Pennsylvania and there is no mandatory minimum sentence. A person commits a homicide by vehicle (non-DUI) when a person acts recklessly or with gross negligence and thereby causes a death or fatality. Similarly to aggravated assault by vehicle, this is a felony of the 3rd degree and while there is no mandatory minimum sentence for this charge, there is a higher offense gravity score than aggravated assault by vehicle. It is very similar charge in the State of Missouri.
Aggravated Assault By Vehicle While Drunk or Impaired
Drunk driving, however, changes both of these offenses. Homicide by vehicle while DUI is a felony of the 2nd degree and carries with it a 3 year mandatory minimum (See Title 75 § 3735(a)). Unlike homicide by vehicle, non-DUI, the prosecution isn’t required to prove recklessness or gross negligence but simply negligence. Further, aggravated assault by vehicle-DUI is committed when a person negligently causes serious bodily injury to another person as a result of a violation of the DUI statute (Title 75, Section 3802).
The victims in this case were children and both sustained serious injuries. One remains in the hospital in very serious condition. If Reid is charged, he could at the minimum face drunk driving charges along with aggravated assault while DUI.
The Need For An Accident Reconstruction Expert Following a Vehicle Accident & Criminal Charges
If you’re drunk driving case involves a vehicle accident where a person is injured or killed, there is a strong possibility that the prosecution will charge you with aggravated assault and even homicide by vehicle while DUI if the person later dies. In these situations, accident reconstruction science is critical to the prosecution and defense because the prosecution must establish negligence. Negligence is a civil law concept but in some cases does have a role in criminal prosecutions.
In most situations, an accident reconstruction specialist will almost always have either police or engineering training or both. This background allows him or her to look at the report of your accident and apply engineering standards and those scientific principles to reconstruct and recreate what led to and likely caused the accident. In some cases, accident experts may be able to determine who was at fault and other critical details such as speed at the time of the accident, the braking pattern of all vehicles, and even identify the relative positions of the passengers inside of the vehicles prior to the collision.
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