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Is ‘Autopilot’ a Defense to a Drunk Driving Charge?

Technology may be breaking barriers, but that doesn't mean drivers should be breaking laws. A San Francisco Bay Area driver, charged with driving under the influence after being found asleep behind the wheel on the Bay Bridge last week, apparently claimed that his Tesla was on autopilot when confronted by the California Highway Patrol. That might be a new one, but it wasn't a successful one. As the C.H.P. noted on Twitter afterward, "no it didn't drive itself to the tow yard." The Drunk Part Really Hurts His Drunk Driving Defense When telling it to the judge, context matters. According to the C.H.P., the suspect was two-times above California's Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) limit at the time. That's not close, just like Oakland and San Francisco really aren't that close when trying to sneak your car home after a night out either. And that's wandering into the range for an Aggravated DUI for that matter, though we haven't seen the exact test results yet. Let's Put "Autopilot" in Quotes Here Tesla has yet to confirm if the autopilot feature was used here, but it likely won't matter. According to Fortune, 'Tesla's autopilot is not fully autonomous driving' as the 'autopilot system is [merely] designed to get a driver's attention if it detects a challenging situation.' Which can be a nice feature to have, but isn't quite at a 'drive me home, Tesla' level of technology yet. It should still count as 'driving' under California DUI law as well. Autonomous Driving and the Law Someday there will be a case asking what constitutes "driving" when a truly self-driving car is involved in a DUI. California is shaping up to be a likely test state for answering that question. But until then, a better defense might be a good attorney.Related Resources: Find DUI/DWI Lawyers Near You (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory) Does Autopilot Absolve One Who Drives Drunk or Has an Accident? (ABA Journal) Can You Get a DUI in a Self-Driving Car? (FindLaw's Blotter) DUI Law (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
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Dad Acquitted of Shooting Drunken Driver Who Killed His Sons

A father accused of murdering the drunken driver who killed his two sons was acquitted by a Texas jury. In 2012, David Barajas and his two sons -- David Jr. 12 and Caleb 11 -- were pushing Barajas' truck on a road near their home in Alvin, Texas after the truck ran out of gas. A drunk driver, 20-year-old Jose Banda, plowed into the two boys, killing them. Prosecutors accused Barajas of running home, grabbing a pistol, and fatally shooting Banda in revenge, reports the Houston Chronicle. The jury in Barajas' criminal trial, however, wasn't convinced. Why not? Guilt Must Be Beyond a Reasonable Doubt In any criminal trial, the prosecution my show the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasonable doubt is generally considered doubt that would cause a reasonable person to hesitate before acting in a matter of importance or which prevents a person from saying with moral certainty that a person is guilty of the crime that person is accused of committing. There were several aspects of prosecutors' case against Barajas that could have created doubt in jurors' minds. There were no witnesses to the alleged murder, and police were unable to find the weapon used to kill Banda. In addition, reports the Houston Chronicle, gunpowder tests performed on Barajas' hands came back negative -- which may have indicated if the father had fired a weapon recently. Jury Nullification In some instances, juries faced with convicting a defendant who they believe may have committed a crime but is being unjustly or unfairly prosecuted may choose to acquit the defendant regardless of the facts. This phenomenon is known as jury nullification. In this case, jurors may have sympathized with Barajas, who had watched his two sons killed by a driver, Banda, who was driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system. In either event, Barajas' constitutional rights to be free of double jeopardy mean that following his acquittal, he may not be charged for the same crime again, even if police uncover new evidence. Related Resources: Dad Acquitted in Slaying of Driver Who Killed Sons (Houston's KTRK-TV) Stand Your Ground Rejected in TX Murder Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Texas Man Shot, Killed Over Flirtatious Tweet (FindLaw's Blotter) When Can a DUI Be Charged as Murder? (FindLaw's Blotter)
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SXSW Crash Kills 2; Alleged Drunken Driver Arrested

An alleged drunken driving crash at SXSW claimed two lives and injured about two dozen people after a car barreled into a crowd Thursday morning. Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo told CNN that an unnamed male suspect is in custody facing two counts of capital murder and 23 counts of aggravated assault by vehicle for plowing into the crowd at the South by Southwest festival. What will prosecutors have to prove in order to convict, and what legal options may be available for victims of the crash? Driver Faces Serious Criminal Charges The driver responsible for killing two and putting at least 23 in the hospital was allegedly intoxicated and fleeing police when he collided with the SXSW crowd. According to CNN, the two persons who were killed in the crash were riding their light motorcycles (read: scooters) when the allegedly drunken driver hit them. Under Texas law, causing the death of a person while committing a felony is first degree murder. Since the unnamed driver is also alleged to have caused the death of the two SXSW attendees, he could potentially face the death penalty. In addition to the threat of capital punishment, the man accused of injuring at least 23 people is facing 23 corresponding aggravated assault charges. Aggravated assault is applied when there are serious bodily injuries, and CNN reports that some of the injured are in critical condition. Even without the two capital murder charges, the allegedly drunken driver could be facing anywhere from 46 to 460 years in prison. Civil Lawsuits Possible The criminal charges facing the driver aren't the only way his victims will find justice -- he can also face lawsuits in civil court. The families and loved ones of the two persons killed in the SXSW crash can certainly file wrongful death charges against the man alleged to have run over the two. The 23 survivors (and any others injured by the crash) can potentially sue the drunken driver for battery, and can hope to collect damages for any medical bills or associated costs stemming from their injuries. These civil suits will likely be put on hold until the suspect's criminal charges have been resolved. If he is convicted for the assaults and murders, then the victims should easily obtain a civil judgment against him. Given the extent of the injuries and damages, however, it is unclear whether the suspected killer will have the money to pay for these judgments. Related Resources: 2 dead after car crashes into SXSW crowd (The Austin American-Statesman) In Car v. Bike Crashes, Why Are Charges So Rare? (FindLaw's Blotter) Mars Heiress Charged in Fatal Crash (FindLaw's Blotter) Dad Gets 90 Years for DUI Crash; 5 Kids Killed (FindLaw's Blotter)
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