Provocateur: "The victims
are truly the innocent and the random."
New York law makes it
hard to prosecute and convict drivers who kill while sober.
In April, T.A. spoke with
veteran Brooklyn prosecutor Maureen McCormick, head of the Vehicular Crimes
Bureau at the Brooklyn District Attorneyís office. McCormick graduated from St.
Johnís Law School and has spent the last 17 years working to hold killer drivers
accountable for their crimes.
T.A. has long admired McCormick
for her untiring efforts to hold killer drivers to account and educate the
public about the consequences of speeding and dangerous driving. Among
McCormickís accomplishments, she won a second-degree murder conviction of
Brooklyn driver Jon Paul Lazartes, age 21, who killed two other motorists while
driving at 100 mph on the Belt Parkway on January 16, 2000. Lazartes was
sentenced to 25 years to life for his ďdepraved indifferenceĒ to human life. He
is only the second sober driver convicted of murder in New York State history.
T.A.: Maureen, were you
surprised when the Daily News revealed last year that fewer than one in five
killer drivers is charged criminally even though many of those drivers were
disobeying traffic rules when they killed?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: No, I was not surprised by that statistic. Itís wrong and
frustrating. My victimsí families have educated me that there is no one way to
grieve, but they all feel it is extraordinarily important that someone be held
accountable for their loved onesí death.
Letís say a mom is walking
hand in hand with her young son across the street. They are coming back from a
nice morning in the park, itís broad daylight, they are in the crosswalk and
have the walk signal. Suddenly, a motorist runs the red light and kills them
both. The motorist pulls over and is found to be sober. Would that motorist be
charged with a crime?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: Limited to those facts, that motorist would be summonsed
for running a red light. A criminal prosecution requires showing that the
motorist ran the red light because of more than carelessness or inadvertence.
The driverís behavior at the time of running the light is usually the only way
to prove the driverís state of mind. The state of a personís mind is a difficult
thing to prove. They donít generally yell out ďIím going through this light on
Letís say this killer
motorist had a revoked driverís license. Would that make a difference?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: Under the governorís proposed legislation it would, but
sadly under the current laws it would not. Currently, the motorist would be
summonsed for the red light violation and face a misdemeanor charge for
aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. These charges might result
in fines where no death or injury occurred. In Brooklyn, District Attorney Hynes
seeks to see that killer motorists serve at least some jail time. However,
judges are not bound by the D.A.ís recommendations.
So, if a sober driver kills
a cyclist or walker and then stops and pulls over after killing them, itís
unlikely that the driver will serve jail time?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: When D.A.ís canít show that the driverís acts were more
than careless or inadvertent, and criminal assault or manslaughter cannot be
charged, jail time is unlikely. However, in Brooklyn, more sober drivers are
charged with driving assaults and homicides in cases than drunk or drugged ones.
The jail time for these sober drivers depends on the driverís behavior and
record. In general, defendants in sober driving cases who do not rise to the
criminal level of ďdepraved indifference to human lifeĒ will receive lesser jail
sentences than drunk or drugged drivers.
Why is that?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: Because of the way laws are written and interpreted, and
because of societal attitudes, it is easier to convict deadly drivers who are
drunk or drugged. The average New Yorker has a hard time identifying with a guy
who smokes crack or shoots up before getting behind the wheel. But jurors may
identify with speeders or red light runners who kill someone.
Do you think that the public
views speeding, red light running and aggressive driving as it did drunk driving
10 to 20 years ago?
A.D.A MCCORMICK: When I started, jail time for killing someone while drunk
was rare. Then Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and lots of public education
changed attitudes towards drunk driving. Now, consciousness raising about speed
and red light running is starting to occur. Judges are much less likely to
dismiss charges against sober, killer drivers than they were ten years ago. But
many police officers, judges and prosecutors donít consider this ďreal crimeĒ
until their first vehicular crime case. Then, they are awestruck by the
devastation wrought on the family. They learn first hand that the victims are
truly the innocent and the random.
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