Friday, November 15, 2013

State v. Pelham case brief

State v. Pelham case brief summary
824 A.2d 1082 (2003)

The State appealed from an order of the Superior Court, Appellate Division (New Jersey), which reversed defendant's conviction of second-degree death by auto and which remanded for a new trial, based on the finding that the jury charge on intervening cause due to the victim's removal from life support was erroneous.

Defendant was intoxicated and hit another car, causing the driver to suffer extremely serious injuries. The victim was eventually taken off life support due to his critical condition, including paralysis, multiple other injuries, and constant medical problems due to his condition. He died shortly after the ventilator was removed, and defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter.

The trial court denied defendant's motion to dismiss, finding that removal of life support was not an intervening cause. At trial, the jury was instructed that the victim's removal from a respirator did not constitute an independent intervening cause, and accordingly did not break the chain of causality between defendant's acts and the victim's death. Defendant was convicted and appealed.

  • The appellate division reversed, finding that the instruction deprived defendant of his right to have the jury decide all elements of the charged offense. 
  • On further appeal by certification, the court found that the instruction was proper. 
  • It was noted that removal from life support was a foreseeable event, and as such did not remove or lessen defendant's criminal responsibility for the victim's death.

The court reversed the order of the appellate division and remanded the matter to the trial court for reinstatement of the trial court's judgment of conviction against defendant.

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