The Georgia Supreme Court recently heard and ruled on arguments from a 2013 case where the defendant, Dannie Mondor was charged with vehicular homicide and hit and run in Georgia.
The facts of the case have been presented as follows. Mondo was, according to reports, driving a large recreational vehicle and towing a trailer down I-75 in Cobb County. Mondor changed lanes near an exit, and as he did that, the front right of his vehicle hit the left rear of a nearby vehicle. That vehicle spun across the highway and hit another car in the far left lane. That impact ejected a passenger from the third car, Bradley Braland, who died at the scene of the accident.
Mondor drove several miles further to the next exit where he pulled into a lot and called 911 to report the incident. By 2014, the Cobb County District Attorney and a grand jury indicted Mondor for both hit and run and vehicular homicide in Georgia.
The arguments heard by the Georgia Supreme Court revolved around the trial court judge's decision to exclude evidence that Braland, the deceased passenger, who was ejected from the car, was not wearing a seatbelt. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the trial court's decision.
The justices agreed that whether the deceased was wearing a seat belt was irrelevant in determining whether the collision was the proximate cause of his death.
Justice Sarah Warren stated that, “To be sure, such evidence may well be relevant in a civil case to the issue of contributory negligence ... assumption of risk, or apportionment of damages, but the same is not true of issues of causation in a criminal case.” She spoke on behalf of the court, saying, ““We therefore hold that evidence of a victim's failure to wear a seat belt generally is not relevant evidence of causation in criminal cases.”
This means that all evidence surrounding the fact that the victim was not wearing a seatbelt is also barred from being introduced to or heard by the jury.
According to the defense attorney representing Mondor in this case, there were two other people in the car with Braland who were wearing seatbelts and were not ejected as well as not injured. He also stated that the court failed to mention that the state's medical examiner testified that Braland would not have been ejected from the vehicle if he had been wearing a seatbelt.
Practice Note: Attorney Opinion
- DUI in Georgia
- Reckless Driving in Georgia
- Unlawful Passing of a School Bus in Georgia
- Fleeing or Attempting to Elude Police in Georgia
- Leaving the Scene of an Accident in Georgia
During my time as a criminal defense attorney, I have started to pick up on a continuous trend. It seems to be the state of Georgia's motive to be in the business of convicting more people of more crimes. This results in As a Georgia DUI Lawyer, it seems to me that the state of Georgia has a pattern of wanting to our Courts continue to completely ridiculous rulings, so that at the prosecutors can have an easier time getting a conviction. .
This ruling is by all logic saying that you cannot argue contributory negligence in a criminal case. Contributory negligence means that the victim contributes to his own injury. This type of evidence has been deemed as more important in a civil case in Georgia according to our own Supreme Court.
In a civil case, the liability is typically apportioned - or split up amongst multiple people if contributory negligence is found. My question is: how has this been deemed more important in a civil case?
Furthermore… how is this deemed to be completely irrelevant in a criminal case?
This means that in cases of vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle, the jury is not going to hear that the person who died was ejected from a car because he was not wearing a seatbelt. I cannot see how it is not relevant when the only other factor of causation in the case is the seatbelt.
In cases involving vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle, the proximate cause of the death or injury must be the defendant's criminal driving as exemplified in the list above. This ruling is essentially taking away whether or not someone was actually the proximate cause or even responsible.
In my opinion, this is the Supreme Court of Georgia declaring that the citizens of Georgia are too stupid to come to a fair ruling if you let them hear all the evidence. Ultimately, it has been decided that the people of Georgia are too stupid to sit on a jury and come to a decision about whether or not a person was contributorily negligent, and whether or not that should be considered in the guilt or innocence of a defendant.
The logical conclusion here is that let's say another driver was driving at 100 MPH and was hit by a DUI driver who made no traffic violation whatsoever, then the first driver's crimes or law breaking wouldn't matter because the DUI driver is at fault no matter what.
The Supreme Court's analysis is completely wrong. The holding upends any semblance of common sense. The only purpose of the ruling is the sole purpose of making prosecutors lives easier, and therefore, resulting in even more convictions. This defense is used in practically every civil case concerning liability. And now, the Supreme Court of Georgia has taken away yet another defense in criminal cases.