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Man Not Guilty of Homicide After Crashing into Off-Duty Police Officer

A man had been charged in Philadelphia with Homicide by Vehicle and Involuntary Manslaughter after he was involved in a car accident that left an off-duty Philadelphia police officer dead. According the philly.com article, the officer was riding a bike towards the man's vehicle when the officer was struck and killed. While it sounds like a relatively straight forward and simple case, the prosecution took four days to present all of its evidence. After the prosecution told the judge that it rested, meaning that it had presented all of its evidence, the man's Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer felt that the prosecution had failed to present sufficient evidence and asked the judge to issue a judgment of acquittal.

Most criminal cases that proceed to a trial are decided by a jury and not a judge. Every defense attorney hopes that the jury returns with a not guilty verdict. However, even in jury trials, a defense lawyer can request that the judge issue a judgment of acquittal or directed verdict. In most cases, the judge denies the request and sends the case to the jury for determination, but in some cases, the judge feels that the evidence is so lacking that the case must be dismissed and the defendant found not guilty without having the jury consider it.

Pennsylvania Homicide by Vehicle Charge

A charge of Homicide by Vehicle under 75 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 3732 requires the prosecution to prove that a person acted recklessly or with gross negligence when committing a violation of the law and that the violation caused the death of another person. A classic example that often arises in Centre County is when a person makes a left-hand turn across traffic and is struck by an oncoming car and someone dies. The driver making the turn violated the law by making the left turn without having sufficient time to clear oncoming traffic and a death resulted. A Williamsport police officer was recently charged with Homicide by Vehicle after driving in the opposing lane of travel at speeds of over 100 miles per hour in a 35 miles per hour zone and striking another car that caused the death of its driver.

In this case, the criminal defense attorney argued that his client's actions were not reckless or grossly negligent and that his client had actually not violated the law whatsoever. The defendant was driving 10 miles per hour under the speed limit and had swerved to avoid striking the officer. The only violation of the law was committed by the officer as he was riding his bike the wrong way on the roadway and towards oncoming traffic. The defense lawyer also argued that victim had animosity towards his client because the defendant was involved in a relationship with the officer's ex-girlfriend and mother of six of the officer's nine children. The officer was also the subject of an internal police investigation for  allegedly engaging in domestic violence when assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Judgment of Acquittal Following Trial

After the Commonwealth had failed to present any evidence that the defendant had committed a violation of the law or had acted in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, the judge granted the Philadelphia lawyer's request for acquittal. There was simply no evidence that the defendant had committed any violation of the law. The defense attorney raised a good point in that he wondered if charges would have been pursued had the victim not been a police officer.

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