Prosecutors, activists frustrated by ‘pro-defendant’ NYS laws for vehicular deaths

News 12 is taking a close look at New York state’s laws surrounding fatal car accidents and the calls to strengthen them after multiple high-profile cases in the Hudson Valley that critics and loved ones say seemingly carry little to no consequences.

Blaise Gomez

Mar 29, 2024, 5:16 PM

Updated 112 days ago

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News 12 is taking a close look at New York state’s laws surrounding fatal car accidents and the calls to strengthen them after multiple high-profile cases in the Hudson Valley that critics and loved ones say seemingly carry little to no consequences.
One head-on collision killed a Monticello man in 2022 and resulted in no criminal charges earlier this year – even though Orange County prosecutors and state police said the driver was speeding and failed to obey multiple traffic laws. The driver was issued an $886 fine and nine points on his license.
In another case that resolved this month, a Poughkeepsie woman was sentenced in Dutchess County Court to 2 1/3 to seven years in prison for a fatal drugged crash in 2022 that killed a well-known school bus driver and veteran.
News 12 has reported on a number of fatal accidents with similar outcomes that are too many to mention them individually.
Activists with Mothers Against Drunk Driving are behind four bills in Albany designed to tighten up state laws when it comes to impaired driving, including lowering the legal limit to drive after drinking alcohol from .08 to .05 and requiring drivers convicted of impaired driving to pay child support in cases where victims are parents who leave behind underage children.
“People are dying. Our numbers are going the wrong way in New York state,” says MADD regional executive director Paige Carbone.
Syracuse law professor and former prosecutor Rick Trunfio says prosecutors sympathize with victims, but their hands are tied by state laws that carry low penalties for most vehicular deaths ranging from probation to a few years in prison.
“From a legal perspective, the criminal justice system is designed to protect the rights of people accused,” says Trunfio. “It’s not designed to get vengeance. It’s designed to get justice for both sides.”
Trunfio says laws carrying harsher consequences are unlikely to pass right now.
“This legislature is not pro-victim. It’s pro-defendant,” Trunfio says. “They are never going to increase the penalties [for vehicular crimes] when they’re trying to reduce penalties for people who actually have intent to shoot guns, kill people and assault people.”
Activists say they won’t take no for an answer.
“We are going to keep on working until we see no more victims of these crimes," says Carbone.
MADD reports that two out of three people will be impacted in some way by drunk or impaired driving in their lifetime.
According to the most recent New York state Department of Health data available online, there were an average of 1,098 deaths from 2014 – 2016 due to unintentional motor vehicle traffic-related injuries.


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