Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Amy Senser Trial: Jury Deliberations

We're winding down the trial of the year here in Minnesota as the Amy Senser case went was handed off to the jury Tuesday afternoon.  One of the things folks seem most confused about is what, exactly, is the jury deciding?  I'll go through the things the jury must determine real quickly this morning.  If we get a verdict today, I'll post a response to that, as well.

I think one of the most frustrating thing for a lot of people regarding this case is the fact that Senser has stipulated to the fact that she was driving the vehicle that killed Mr. Phanthavong.  I have gotten some emails from people asking me how this admission doesn't end this case and constitute a guilty plea.  The easy answer is that whether or not she killed the victim isn't at trial.  Hitting someone with your car and killing them isn't necessarily a crime.  Crime requires an element of intent or negligence, which isn't necessarily satisfied by the act of killing someone.  Accidents do happen, and getting into an accident isn't a crime.  The alleged crime in Amy Senser's case would be if she knew she hit Mr. Phanthavong, knew that she likely had caused him severe bodily harm (or worse), and made a decision to drive away without telling anyone.  The jury's job is to decide whether she knew she hit a person.  They're not deciding whether or not they think she should have known, or whether she may have known.  This knowledge has to be certain in the eyes of the jurors in order to convict Senser of the first two felony charges (leaving the scene and failing to report).  If they determine that there is a reasonable doubt regarding whether she knew she hit a person, she must be found not guilty of both of these charges.

As for the third charge, gross negligent operation of a vehicle holds a different standard.  The jury would have to decide that, based on the evidence of the case, Mrs. Senser was driving in a manner that would "shock the conscience."  This typically involves driving at an excessive speed, not being in control of your vehicle, weaving in and out of traffic, squealing your tires when you turn, and other things of that nature.  Without any witnesses that saw the accident, it's probably going to be difficult to have enough evidence to get a conviction on this charge.  Amy Senser did testify that she was looking over at a bridge when she was turning onto the Riverside ramp, which would indicate that her eyes were not on the road at the time.  This momentary glance away from the road is at the crux of her explanation of how she failed to see Mr. Phanthavong.  It's possible that the jury could come back and say that this action constitutes negligent driving, but I'm not sure such a decision could withstand a motion for directed verdict by the defense.  Gross negligence is a hard standard to meet, and without further evidence (which we're not getting at this point), it's going to be tough to expect the jury to come back with anything other than a "not guilty" on this charge.

So, in summation, the jury will really be deciding two things.  The first is whether or not Amy Senser knew she hit a person that night.  If they determine that she did, then they must find her guilty of leaving the scene and failing to report.  If they determine that she did not know she had hit a person, then they must find her not guilty of both charges.  Second, they must decide if her driving was so erratic that it would constitute gross negligence.  If they determine that it was, then they must find her guilty of gross negligent operation of a vehicle.  If they determine that it was not or that they do not have enough information to make a clear determination, then they must find her not guilty.

This should be an exciting day at the Hennepin County Courthouse.  If there is a verdict today, stop back here afterwards to read my response and reaction to the case.

If you or a love one have been charged with a crime or are the subject of a criminal investigation, don't hesitate to call a Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney to help you through your difficult situation.  Hiring a lawyer before charges come, as Mrs. Senser did, can often keep you from saying or doing things that you shouldn't.  Don't try to take on criminal charges on your own.  Call or email a Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney today.

As always, all content on the Minnesota Criminal Defense Blog is for entertainment purposes, only, and is not intended to be legal advice or legal advertising.  Reading Minnesota Criminal Defense Blog does not create an attorney/client relationship between the author and the reader.  If you are in need of legal advice or legal representation, stop surfing the internet for answers and contact a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction for personalized service.

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