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Friday, 24 April 2020

Vehicular Manslaughter (Death by Dangerous Driving)

In order for the driver to be charged with murder, it will have to be proven that he deliberately hit and killed this little girl. If that can’t be proven, the more likely offence will be Vehicular Manslaughter, which is legally defined as the crime of causing the death of a human being due to illegal driving of an automobile.

In Trinidad & Tobago, the official archaic charge for this offence is “Causing Death by Dangerous Driving” according to section 71 of the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act 1934, as amended:
71. (1) Any person who causes the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle dangerously on a road, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for fifteen (15) years.**

(2) A person convicted of an offence under this section shall, without prejudice to the power of the Court to order a longer period of disqualification, be disqualified for a period of fifteen (15) years from the date of the conviction from holding or obtaining a driving permit, and on a second conviction for a like offence he shall be permanently disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving permit.

Of course, “dangerously” is the operative word in the offence, which means that there is no Vehicular Manslaughter without clear evidence of dangerous driving… so what exactly is “dangerous driving”?

According to section:
71-B. (1) For the purposes of sections 71 and 71A a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if—
 (a) the way in which he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver; and
 (b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

The definition proffered in this Trinidad & Tobago legislation is clearly quite broad and very vague, so in order to further explain, some examples from the well-referenced Blackstone's Criminal Practice include:
  • ·        Speeding
  • ·        Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • ·        Aggressive driving - such as sudden lane changes, cutting into a line of vehicles or driving too close to other vehicles
  • ·        Disregard of traffic lights and road signs
  • ·        Unsafe overtaking
  • ·        Carrying dangerous loads
  • ·        Driving with impaired ability – e.g. foot or hand in a cast
  • ·        Driving when tired
  • ·        Knowingly driving a vehicle with a dangerous defect
  • ·        Using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment, or other distractions such and reading a newspaper/ map, etc.

Administratively, it is also important to comply with the requirements for the limitation time-frames during when charges must be brought against an accused driver:
73. (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3), where a person is prosecuted for an offence under any of the preceding sections relating respectively to the maximum speed at which motor vehicles may be driven, dangerous driving or causing death by dangerous driving, and to careless driving, he shall not be convicted UNLESS either—
 (a) he was warned on the day the offence was committed that the question of prosecuting him for an offence under some one or other of the sections aforesaid would be taken into consideration; or
 (b) within fourteen days of the commission of the offence a summons for the offence was served on him; or
 (c) within the said fourteen days a notice of the intended prosecution specifying the nature of the alleged offence and the time and place where it is alleged to have been committed was served on or sent by registered post to him or to the person registered as the owner of the vehicle at the time of the commission of the offence.

**Although the prescribed penalty is a maximum sentence of fifteen (15) years imprisonment, conviction of this offence is unlikely to result in the max sentence. Here are some examples of persons convicted of this offence in recent times:

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