This blog typically covers cases concerning the various and often complex legal issues that arise as the result of a Florida car accident. The Fourth District Court of Appeal's recent ruling in Rubinger v. State is a good reminder that these issues may extended to criminal responsibility.
Ariella Rubinger was charged with several counts of DUI and one count of vehicular homicide stemming from a two-car accident in which the driver of the other vehicle was killed. The victim was traveling ahead of Rubinger on Interstate 595. The car slowed to exit the highway and was reportedly rear-ended by Rubinger's car.
The prosecution provided evidence showing that Rubinger was speeding at the time of the accident, which she denied. According to emergency personnel and police officers who arrived on the scene shortly after the accident, Rubinger was distracted, indifferent and seemingly unconcerned about the severity of the crash. "They testified that Rubinger's main focus seemed to be getting to a party, and she was overheard asking someone on the phone to come pick her up and take her to Miami," the court explained. Despite this behavior, none of the witnesses testified that Rubinger smelled of alcohol or appeared intoxicated.
Despite protests from Rubinger, the trial court allowed the prosecutors to present testimony at trial concerning Rubinger's behavior after the accident. A jury found her not guilty of the DUI and vehicular homicide charges, but guilty for a lesser offense of culpable negligence, which typically applies where a defendant's negligence is so gross that it evinces a criminal disregard for others' safety.
On appeal, the Fourth District ruled that the trial court should not have allowed the State to present the evidence of Rubinger's post-accident behavior. "Evidence is only relevant if it tends to prove or disprove a material fact," the Court explained. "Here, the evidence at issue did not tend to prove that Rubinger was driving recklessly at the time of the accident" only that she may have been acting strangely after the accident.
The Court further ruled that the lower court's error in allowing this evidence was not harmless, finding that it likely contributed to the jury's decision on the culpable negligence charge. Specifically, the Court noted that the prosecution did not present any other evidence that would indicate that Rubinger was driving recklessly and that the witnesses did not testify that she appeared impaired. "Although the State presented lay testimony that Rubinger was driving at an excessive rate of speed, this issue was highly contested with expert testimony," the Court said.
As a result, the Court reversed the trial court's decision on Rubinger's motion to exclude the witness testimony and remanded the case back to the lower court for a new trial.
As this case makes clear, a car accident can have far reaching effects, including injury and death as well as criminal prosecution. If you were injured in a car accident, the experienced auto accident attorneys of Anidjar & Levine can help. Representing clients throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, Anidjar & Levine are dedicated to assisting you achieve the best possible outcome.
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