In American Courts, Drivers Still Innocent After Proven Guilty

When it comes to traffic fatalities, the scales of the American justice system are not weighted equally. Let’s compare two cases.

A year ago a young mother was charged with vehicular homicide after her four-year-old son was struck by a drunk driver who fled the scene. The woman’s crime, in the strict legal sense, was jaywalking (she was convicted, then, following national outrage, offered a retrial).

Yesterday Dr. James Corasanti was aquitted in a Buffalo-area court of all charges in the DWI death of 18-year-old Alexandria Rice. Photo: Charm City Streets

It didn’t matter that Raquel Nelson wasn’t the one who caused the collision. In fact, if she had been behind the wheel of the car, she probably would have faced a lighter penalty. The intoxicated driver who was responsible for her son’s death was sentenced to just six months, while she faced three years.

In American courts, it seems there is no better immunity for killing someone than to be a driver. Here’s a great example today out of Buffalo, reported by Charm City Streets. Being drunk, killing someone and fleeing the scene was still not enough to get a conviction when the perpetrator was cloaked in the body of an automobile:

A Buffalo-area jury acquitted Dr. James Corasanti of all felony charges stemming from the death of an 18-year-old girl he hit with his car. This is despite the fact he was drinking and texting, and drove off from the scene leaving the young girl to die. Paradoxically, he was convicted of misdemeanor DWI. Full coverage is available from the Buffalo News.

As has become standard in cases such as this, Corasanti alleged he never saw the victim, Alexandria Rice, who was returning home from work one night last summer. This defense is tried and true in our justice system as drivers are regularly not found responsible for hitting and killing people with their vehicles. A chilling quote from Corasanti’s defense attorney sums things up: “We believe the jury saw it for what it was — a tragic, horrible accident.”

In just about every other facet of life, individuals are held responsible for their life-threatening actions, whether intentional or due to their own negligence. Not so for drivers. As long as you claim not to have killed someone on purpose, you are free to wreak as much havoc as you like with your car.

Meanwhile, also on the Network today, a similar case out of Lee County, Florida: The local bike advocacy group is calling for intervention by the governor after police failed to bring charges in the death of a cyclist struck by a motorist of questionable sobriety, who swerved out of the designated lane and onto the shoulder. According to WalkBikeLee, police failed to even gather sufficient evidence to prosecute, which is so often the case with these types of crimes. The only charge the driver faced was “failure to drive within a single lane.”

BikeWalkLee’s Dan Moser had a number of questions, but the most pertinent of all seems to be: “Is FHP [Florida Highway Patrol] capable of properly investigating any fatality involving a bicyclist or a pedestrian?”

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America reports that a very important provision in the transportation bill, letting local governments access funds for street safety programs, may be under attack in the conference committee. Cascade Bicycle Club explains that Seattle’s Sound Transit is spending a fortune on parking at a transit station in which 90 percent of passengers arrive by foot or bike. And MoBikeFed outlines how one Missouri county continues a campaign of obstructionist laws against cyclists.