Kurt Holzer

Kurt Holzer

It is time for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter to be removed from Idaho law.

This time it is the family of Florence and Bob Goar who are learning that Idaho drivers have special rights when it comes to killing fellow citizens. Its time to stop revictimizing people like the Goar family, and the families of others like Joann Baker, Jim Chu Sandy Hernandez, and Kevin Pavlis. All killed by drivers breaking the law. The families suffer a second time when they learn of the Idaho law that gives drivers special rights to kill. Deadly drivers should not get special treatment.

Under Idaho law, manslaughter is basically causing an unintended death without any forethought. Idaho defines three types of manslaughter: voluntary, involuntary and vehicular. The law is in Idaho Code section 18-4006. Both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are felonies

The category a crime falls in is based on the potential penalty. A crime is potentially punishable by prison for more than a year is a felony. If punishable by no more than a year in jail it is a misdemeanor.

Manslaughter penalties are in Idaho Code section 18-4007.

Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a killing results from a sudden quarrel or “in the heat of passion.” Involuntary manslaughter by up to 10 years in prison. Using a firearm negligently or recklessly or accidentally killing someone during some act or even doing something legal “without due caution” that causes a death is involuntary manslaughter.

There are three types of vehicular manslaughter.

When the driver is drunk or operating under the influence, it is punished like voluntary manslaughter.

If the driver is not drunk or committing a different felony while driving but is acting illegally with “gross negligence,” then he can be punished like involuntary manslaughter. Idaho law defines gross negligence as “a wanton, flagrant or reckless disregard of consequences or willful indifference of the safety or rights of others.” It is difficult to show a driver acting with gross negligence.

If the driver commits an “unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, without gross negligence” and still kills someone, it is merely a misdemeanor.

This is the problem that needs fixing. Speeding or making an illegal turn or ignoring a stop light all generally fall in this category. In the Goars’ case, the Ada County prosecutor has decided Christopher Lammey either wasn’t breaking the law or, more likely that they didn’t believe they could establish Lammey’s “gross negligence.”

The defense is pretty easy. “I just wasn’t paying attention. While that may be negligent, it is not flagrant disregard.” Every member of a jury would have had a moment of inattention behind the wheel.

But just like firearms, cars used negligently kill. The law should have appropriate punishments for people who kill other people.

Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter needs to be removed from law. Lawmakers need to eliminate the gross negligence requirement.

Drivers should not be given special rights to break the law and kill fellow citizens. If the circumstances are such that a smaller sentence is warranted, the judge can evaluate the situation and provide a lesser punishment. But there is no reason that a person behind the wheel of a car who kills someone while breaking a driving statute should only be exposed to a misdemeanor. Remember a person who engages in a lawful act which might produce death, . . . without due caution and circumspection is subject to a felony.

It is time to stop giving drivers a special pass to kill pedestrians, children, cyclists and other motorists.

Kurt Holzer is a trial attorney with Hepworth Holzer, LLP in Boise and a member of the Bike Law national network of lawyers.

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