Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Friends who let friends drive drunk (and the prosecutors who charge them)

According to this story, a 17-year old girl was driving drunk and killed herself, and now two of her friends are charged with misdemeanor crimes for letting her drive when they knew she was intoxicated.  It’s rare to get two issues in one news story.  Here they are:

First, the writer states that the girl’s friends have been charged criminally.  But then, throughout the story, every indication is that they have yet to be charged and may not be charged.  (Even the title indicates they’ve just been "arrested.")  For example, one lawyer claims this is a case of possible police overreaching.  Well, the police probably don't issue criminal charges; prosecutors do.  So it sounds like this might only be an arrest and possibly a referral to the prosecutor’s office.  Further, a different lawyer states that he’s curious to see what the prosecutor will do with this situation.  So again, it seems to me that the prosecutor has yet to review the case.  (This would be odd, though, because the car accident happened in July, and this arrest and/or criminal charge -- or whatever it is -- happened months later in December.)  But the point is that legal journalists should get to the nitty-gritty and get the facts and procedural details down cold.  But unfortunately, sloppy reporting is par for the course; even major cases like the George Zimmerman trial are grossly misreported.

Second, if the prosecutor has charged or does charge these friends of the girl, it would be another great example of our liberties being eroded under a party-to-the-crime type of theory.  (For similar examples, see here for how innocent people are charged with crimes for what their friends do.)  Also, it potentially puts the friends in a no-win situation.  If two boys try to restrain a drunk and (possibly) headstrong 17-year-old girl who (possibly) insists on driving, the situation could easily escalate. The boys could easily be charged with false imprisonment (or worse, if they happened to touch the girl improperly during the struggle for the keys).  And if that were to happen, good luck picking a defense.  Maybe the boys could argue that their actions were calculated to protect others (here, the girl) from harm.  But if a hypothetical angry and drunk 17-year-old girl in this situation has a different version of events, who do you think the prosecutor will believe?  In fact, check out the first reader comment under the story: the writer was charged with false imprisonment for preventing his wife from driving drunk.  This doesn’t surprise me at all, as I’ve represented numerous clients where similar well-intentioned actions have resulted in a wide array of criminal charges.

Fun times.  Prosecutors are now creating situations where, no matter which path a person takes, he could be charged criminally.  Does he want some type of party-to-a-crime charge for the car accident that he didn’t even see happen and only heard about the next day?  Or does he want some type of false imprisonment-related charge if the drunk driver resists his efforts to prevent her from driving.  Pick your poison, young man.  Or, better yet, just stay home where it’s safe.    

Hat tip for story: Eric Olson

No comments:

Post a Comment