The Henry Ruggs Case—Understanding the elements of Drunk Driving Resulting in Death & Blood Evidence
Former Las Vegas Raider, Henry Ruggs, is charged with drunk driving resulting in death following an incident which allegedly killed a woman in Las Vegas. In Nevada, this crime is a Class B felony and if convicted Rugs faces a mandatory minimum years of state incarceration and up to a maximum of 20 years on this charge alone.
In addition, Ruggs also faces possible weapons charges since a loaded firearm was found in the vehicle. He faces a 2nd DUI charge under Nevada law for the injuries which his passenger allegedly sustained. If convicted, a court is not obligated to run any of these sentences concurrently and so he faces substantial state prison time if his criminal defense lawyers are not able to negotiate favorable plea terms or find weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. This could be difficult given the circumstances surrounding the incident.
The legal limit for drunk driving, in Nevada, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey is .08. Allegedly, Ruggs’ Blood Alcohol Content or Concentration (BAC) was twice the legal limit at the time of the accident. His vehicle was allegedly traveling at approximately 156MPH when he collided with the victim’s car which burst into flames.
Pennsylvania, like Nevada, maintains a criminal statute to address homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence under Title 75 § 3735. This is a felony of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania and if convicted, a person faces a mandatory minimum 3 years of state prison.
The elements required to convict a person in the Commonwealth are very similar to the elements in Nevada:
- The person was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- A death of another person occurred.
- The death occurred as a result of driving under the influence.
Pennsylvania also maintains the crime of aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI which is a felony of the 2nd degree under Title 75 § 3735.1. This is a felony of the 2nd degree but does not carry a mandatory minimum sentence.
Aggravated assault by vehicle (non-DUI) under 3732.1 however, is a felony of the 3rd degree. The two charges are very similar. Aggravated assault by vehicle, non-DUI, requires the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted recklessly or with gross negligence and cause serious bodily injury whereas aggravated assault DUI require the prosecution to establish negligence which caused serious bodily injury to another while the person was driving under the influence.
How should Henry Ruggs’ criminal defense lawyers handle this case despite the strong evidence against him.
While it appears that the Ruggs case has overwhelming evidence, it is still necessary for his attorneys to evaluate possible trial options given the consequences of the offense.
His attorneys should evaluate the strength of the chemical evidence and the causation between Rugs’ actions and the victim’s death. While this may appear obvious, the burden of proof in the criminal court is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While Rugs will likely face a wrongful death suit from the victim’s family, the burden of proof in civil proceedings is much less than in a criminal one.
Why Blood Evidence is important in a drunk driving case
The prosecution of a driving under the influence (DUI) requires that the government produce, in most cases, scientific evidence to meet its burden of proof. This scientific evidence generally consists of a defendant’s breath analysis for the presence and concentration of alcohol, a urine analysis and/or a blood test for alcohol and other intoxicates.
The level of intoxication is a critical issue in a DUI trial and scientific testing is the only way to present this evidence.
Blood analysis is considered one of the most reliable methods to test blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and headspace gas chromatography (HGC) is considered the most reliable method to make a BAC determination. HGC involves the separation of a sample into its structural components. A critical component of HGC analysis is whether the specimen tested is a whole blood measurement. In Pennsylvania, the law is very specific and anything less than whole blood requires the imposition of a conversion factor.
While the device used to determine BAC is chromatograph the report generated is known as the chromatogram. It is a computer generated graphical interpretation of raw data. GCH provides a scientist with the ability to determine all components of a specimen which would include, in the cases, of a DUI, ethanol. The chromatogram is measuring retention time which it defines as the period of time it takes for the device to identify a component in a specimen. In a case of ethanol, the machine is provided with a standard concentration for ethanol with a solution the known as a calibrator. If the substance identified matches the calibrated solution a conclusion is made that it is ethanol.
When a substance is detected it is demonstrated by a spike on a constant line. Each spike indicates a specific substance within a specimen. It is important that there be sufficient distance between spikes. Without this separation, it will be impossible for a scientist to determine a substance such as ethanol versus a non-intoxicating substance in a whole blood specimen. It is also important that the peeks are tall, skinny, and symmetrical. If the spikes do not meet these characteristics they are considered “co-eluted” which means they were detected at the same time and therefore it is impossible to determine which substance was actually detected.
In addition to issues with the actual device and/or interpretation of the results, it is important to keep in mind that the actual testing techniques could call into question the validity of BAC testing. Specimen handling and chain of custody are all issues which your defense attorney should consider prior to trial. The successful defense of a DUI requires that your attorney have a strong working knowledge of scientific testing utilized by the prosecution. Without such knowledge he/she will have no real way of defending your interest thus subjecting you to severe criminal penalties, such as imprisonment, license suspension and substantial fines.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Lawyers in PA & NJ
Please click here to contact our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers. We offer free case reviews and serve the following areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Atlantic City, Camden, Cherry Hill, Chester, Conshohocken, Doylestown, Media, Norristown, Philadelphia, Pottstown, Salem, Upper Darby, Upper Merion, Upper Providence, Vineland & Woodbury areas.