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Commonwealth v. Barone

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Barone (defendant) was driving on a busy street and as she made a left turn a motorcyclist ran into the side of her car, killing the operator of the motorcycle. Barone was charged under the state’s motor vehicle code, which stated that any unintentional death caused by the violation of the state’s traffic ordinances would be considered homicide.

     

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Any state law imposing a conviction for homicide stemming from the unintentional death of a person, caused by a defendant’s violation of traffic ordinances will operating a motor vehicle, will not be construed as a strict liability offense.

     

    Facts.

    Barone was driving to work on a busy and crowded street while traffic was heavy. As Barone approached a stop sign and attempted to cross an intersection and turn left, she was struck by a motorcyclist, which killed the operator of the motorcycle. The state’s motor vehicle code provided that any unintentional death caused by an operator of a motor vehicle who was engaged in a traffic violation was considered guilty of vehicular homicide. Barone moved to demurrer and the trial court granted the motion, citing lack of evidence.

     

    Issue.

    Whether a state criminal law, which imposes a homicide conviction and an unduly harsh sentence stemming from the unintentional death of another caused by the violation of state traffic ordinances while operating a motor vehicle can be construed as a strict liability offense?

     

    Held.

    Whether a state criminal law, which imposes a homicide conviction and an unduly harsh sentence stemming from the unintentional death of another caused by the violation of state traffic ordinances while operating a motor vehicle can be construed as a strict liability offense?

     

    Dissent.

    The majority is incorrect in their reading of the statute and the legislative intent behind it. It expressly imposes strict liability on any individual who violates it.

     

    Concurrence.

    I agree the majority reached the correct conclusion, yet I believe that the statute at issue does impose strict liability on those who violate it. However, the statute is nonetheless unconstitutional, violating the due process clause.

     

    Discussion.

    Statutes generally require that homicide involves some sort of voluntary act by the defendant, whether it be reckless, intentional, or knowingly. However, the statute at issue imposes criminal liability for homicide based on unintentional acts. Thus, a defendant who is acting reasonably at the time of the accident would still be strictly liable for homicide under the statute. The intent of the legislature when drafting the law was not to punish those who acted reasonably, but to punish those who greatly deviate from a reasonable standard of care. Public safety will not be improved by punishing those who act reasonably, but only those who act negligently. Here, Barone did not grossly deviate from what a reasonably prudent person would have done in a similar situation and it follows that there can be no violation of the statute when looking at legislative intent.

     


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