Arizona Defendant in Negligent Homicide Case Appeals Based on Error in Jury Instructions

In a recent negligent homicide case in Arizona, the defendant appealed the guilty verdict he received after a jury found him responsible for the death of a second driver while he was on the road. The criminal charges stemmed from an indecent in which the defendant’s car crashed into a second car, tragically killing the second car’s driver. The defendant was found guilty at trial, and he appealed. Reviewing the case, the higher court affirmed the original ruling and sustained the defendant’s guilty verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving one evening in a 40-mph zone when he approached an intersection going 70 miles per hour. A second car turned left in front of the defendant, and the defendant crashed into the second car. After the driver’s death, the State charged the defendant with one count of negligent homicide. The defendant’s case then went to trial.

The Decision

At trial, the jury had to evaluate whether the defendant was guilty, and if he was guilty, whether he should be convicted of manslaughter or of a lesser offense, negligent homicide. The jury ultimately found the defendant guilty of negligent homicide, but he promptly appealed the conviction.

According to the defendant, the prosecutor had given the jury incorrect information by telling jurors that he only had to be guilty of one element of the crime, when in reality, the criminal statute says that anyone convicted of negligent homicide must be found guilty of two of the elements of the crime. These elements include causation of the victim’s death and failure to recognize a significant risk of causing death.

Because the jurors thought the defendant had to be found guilty of either causing the death or failing to recognize the risk (instead of both elements), they were more likely to find him guilty. Reviewing the defendant’s argument, the court agreed that the jury instructions were given in error, but it ultimately decided that this error was not significant enough to overturn the guilty conviction. There was no evidence, said the court, that the jurors would have made a different decision had they received the correct instructions.

Rejecting the defendant’s argument, then, the court affirmed the original ruling.

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