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Penalty for deadly careless driving

Published (1/28/2011)
By Mike Cook
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Most, if not all, victim crimes in state statute contain harsher penalties based on the damage done. The same goes for property crimes.

Supporters of a bill want penalty enhancements when it comes to some instances of careless driving.

Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), HF68 would increase the penalty to a gross misdemeanor for careless driving if it results in the death of another person.

Approved Jan. 26 by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee, the bill next goes to the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

Current law provides that when a person is found to be carelessly driving and causes the death of another person, they can be charged with either a misdemeanor — the equivalent of running a stop sign — or a felony. Probable cause must be shown to get a felony conviction.

“This would create a third option, where only in those cases where a person is first of all negligent, and second of all, their action results in the death of another individual, it would give the option or the flexibility of charging with a gross misdemeanor,” Garofalo said.

Nancy Johnson, president of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, would like “great bodily harm” added to the bill, but said the organization supports the current proposal.

Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls) was one of at a least a couple of members to audibly vote against the bill.

“Some of the top prosecutors in the state have told me this is a very bad bill, and that it’ll take away their possibility to get felonies on really bad cases,” he said.

Garofalo said the Minnesota County Attorneys Association has expressed support for a third way to charge; however, he wouldn’t “state their support” for his exact bill.

Scott Hersey, head of the Criminal Division of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office, said the county attorney’s association approved a proposal Jan. 21 that is “substantially and substantively” the same as the Garofalo bill.

“I’ve been to a number of meetings where we meet with the family of people killed by careless drivers. We always get the question, ‘Why is there no stronger law?’” Hersey said. “We believe this will give judges more options.”

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