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Friday, July 11, 2008

New Maine Law May Increase Fatal Accident Punishment

A new Maine statute went into effect on June 30th that could punish those involved in fatal auto accidents if there is evidence that finds a driver acted "negligently" or "recklessly." Rep. Walter Wheeler, who sponsored the bill, says this will hold those involved in fatal accident more accountable if they caused someone's death. One of the reasons Wheeler sponsored the bill is because he believes current vehicular manslaughter laws are not as tough as they should be.

The new statute will allow the Secretary of State to suspend a person's license for at least three years. While it may be easier for drivers to be punished if they are found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the new statute may punish those who fall asleep at the wheel or weren't paying attention at the time of the accident.

However, this bill may have no effect on those accidents that occurred before 2008. This is cold comfort to the family of Berwick, Maine resident Deborah Archer, who was struck and killed in a hit and run. The driver of the van that hit Archer, Jason Brooks, was caught almost a month later. The charges filed against Brooks were $2000 bail and a class C charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Archer's family calls this a "mockery" and hopes the new law will have some effect on this case. However, Hancock County District Attorney Mike Povich says the charge is appropriate because the class C charge can land Brooks in prison for five years. Povich wonders at what point the act that causes the death should be criminalized. For example, does someone talking on the cell phone while they're driving constitute a criminal act if they are involved in an accident?

Povich also states that there used to be a law where a person was guilty of manslaughter if the driver "knowingly, negligently, or recklessly killed someone while they were committing a traffic infraction." The ten year prison penalty for this was repealed in 1997. The problem was that every driving infraction was a crime in cases where someone was killed, but the drivers were not necessarily being negligent, reckless, or otherwise trying to endanger when the accident took place. Povich admits that prosecutors had a difficult time due to lack of evidence, and that everything was labeled a crime.

If you have lost a loved one in an auto accident, please contact the Accident Lawyers Network to find an experienced injury lawyer in your area.

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posted by Neil at 2:30 PM

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