What we should learn From the Venus Williams Crash Investigation

Posted by Richard Lawson | Jul 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Today, we learned in news reports that it appears as if Venus Williams was not at fault in the car accident that unfortunately resulted in a fatality.  

At first, it was assumed based on "expert accident reconstruction," that Venus Williams was at fault in the crash.  As always, the police were quite certain.

However, as now happens more frequently, a video has proven that she entered the intersection legally before being hit by the vehicle driven by the deceased.  

The reason that there is a lesson to be learned is that when there is no video or other evidence, people tend to believe the junk science used by the police to determine fault in an accident.  "Accident Reconstruction" is very often misused by the police to determine fault in an accident.  

Because of confirmation bias, the tendency of trying to confirm something that is already believed, the police get it wrong, all the time. The Venus Williams case is the perfect example.  However, it is also an example of what a tremendously wealthy person can do with unlimited resources.  

Her innocence was proven by a video owned by a private party.  That party was happy to turn it over to Ms. William's defense team.  Very often, our office is told we cannot have a video produced by a private business, and there is no way to force someone to turn over their property to my defense team.  

Police officers are human beings who draw the wrong conclusions as much as anyone else.  The problem is that their findings can result in a person going to prison.

When a person is charged with serious injury by vehicle or vehicular homicide, there are two elements of each charge.  The first element is that the driver was under the influence of alcohol.  The second element is that the defendant's driving was the proximate cause of the death or injury of the victim. 

For purposes of this discussion, let us assume that the driver was clearly under the influence.  However, “causation” still must be proved.  Causation means that but for the actions of one person, something would or would not have happened. 

Causation is where the police often come to the wrong conclusion because they make the assumption that the drunk driver must have caused the accident. They are affected by confirmation bias, because of their disgust at the DUI driver.  

These same officers then do an accident reconstruction, and lo and behold, they find the DUI driver responsible for the accident.

Now, the Venus Williams case, thankfully, did not involve impaired driving.  However, it is the perfect example of where the police were completely wrong in their analysis.  Yet, the next person involved in an accident could be the next person they wrongly accuse.

In my field of practice, Georgia DUI Defense, the police use field sobriety testing, which my common sense believes is complete junk science.  They practice performing the tests for hours, and then expect people, under the pressure of a DUI accusation, to get it right their first time.  It is complete and total bullshit.  Yes, I said bullshit.  There is no one I have ever met that can perform these "evaluations" correctly while being completely sober.  

I also routinely deal with the junk science of police accident reconstructions. It has always fascinated me that the accident reconstructionist I hire (who is usually a former police officer) can come to the exact opposite conclusion that the police reconstructionist.  How in the world can this be “science” when the conclusions of two highly trained officers can be the polar opposite?

The moral of this story is never to assume what the police are saying is accurate.  Be skeptical and use your own common sense.  Never simply believe what you are told.  If someone else's conclusion seems unreasonable, it likely is unreasonable.  Never jump to conclusions, and always assume a person is innocent until proven guilty.  If you are in a car accident and are charged with a traffic violation, call us for help. 

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Managing Partner at Lawson & Berry:


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