Thursday, May 3, 2012

Amy Senser Trial: Senser Found GUILTY on 2 of 3 Felony Charges

The Amy Senser hit-and-run saga has come to an end today with the jury on the case coming back with guilty verdicts on the charges of leaving the scene of the accident and failing to immediately report the accident.  Senser was found not guilty on the third felony charge, which was driving in a grossly negligent manner.  State guidelines for the charges Senser was found guilty of recommend a four year prison sentence.  Senser was released on her original bail until her scheduled sentencing on July 9th.

I predicted in this space a little less than a week ago that it would be difficult for the prosecution to get a conviction in this case, and it was nothing but that.  However, the prosecution's theory of the case clearly won over the jury to the point that they decided it simply wasn't reasonable for Senser to be unaware that the object she hit was a person.

For those of you still trying to get caught up on this thing, for Senser to be guilty of the two charges she was convicted on, she had to knowingly leave the scene of an accident that she knew was likely to have caused significant bodily harm or death to a person and fail to report said accident to the police.  The defense theory throughout the case was not that Senser didn't strike the victim with her SUV, but that she had no reason to believe that what she'd hit was a person.

I was obviously not in the jury room during deliberation, but if I had to guess, I would assume that the bottom line for the jury was that the collision was severe enough that it warranted more than a shrug of the shoulders and a "whoopsy daisy" to Senser's husband the next morning.  Photos showed the extent of the damage to the front of the Senser's SUV to be significant.  Senser herself said that the crash was somewhat jarring.  Experts testifying on behalf of the prosecution opined that given the specifics of the crash, Mr. Phanthavong's body would have appeared above the hood of the SUV after contact for at least a moment or two.  Senser testified that her speed at the time of the accident was roughly 50 mph.  When you combine all of these elements, it would be easy to see how the jury could conclude that Senser either had to have known that she hit something significant, or that such an accident at least required her to stop and investigate.

I based my prediction last week on the theory that it would be difficult for the prosecution to prove that Senser knew she'd hit a person without a reasonable doubt due to the lack of physical evidence, witnesses, or testimony stating as much.  In the end, it turns out that they didn't have to.  The prosecution did a great job of painting a picture for the jury that allowed them to put themselves in Senser's shoes and determine what would be a reasonable reaction to a collision of this magnitude.  Clearly, the decided that driving away without giving the incident a second thought did not qualify as "reasonable" in their minds.

The length of jury deliberation was not surprising, given the high profile nature of the case.  You'll often hear the adage that a long deliberation is good for the defense (at least that's what prosecutors say).  Defense attorneys will tell you that the opposite is true; that a long deliberation is indicative of a jury trying to hammer out a conviction.  I'm not sure there's a right or wrong way to look at this, but in this case, my hunch is that most of the deliberation was spent going over the prosecution's expert testimony and deciding whether or not it added up to knowledge.  In the end, it did, and they convicted.

This is a huge win for the prosecution, as they were ridiculed by some (including me to some extent) for their decision to charge so aggressively in this instance.  Criminal vehicular homicide has long been a difficult conviction to get based on the foggy nature of what someone knows and what they don't know.  If any good is going to come out of this, it's that a precedent has not been set that fleeing from an accident isn't going to get you out of trouble.  You can still be convicted of a crime.

The general consensus was that Senser was hiding something by fleeing; either her being intoxicated or her being under the influence of some sort of narcotic due to a headache of which she'd been complaining.  Ultimately, the reasons for her decision won't matter.  It's a good day for Hennepin County prosecutors, and a bad day for the Senser family.

If you or a loved one find yourself charged with a crime or are the subject of a criminal investigation, it is imperative that you speak withe a qualified Minnesota criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.  Don't wait around for police to convince you to say something you shouldn't.  Get the help you need to be successful in your case.

As always, the contents of Minnesota Criminal Defense Blog are intended for entertainment purposes only and are not designed to be legal advice or legal advertising.  The viewing of this website does not create an attorney/client relationship between the author and the reader.  If you are in need of legal advice, stop surfing the internet for answers and speak with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't in the jury deliberations either, but I think the state patrol report coupled with Ms. Senser's actions after the accident, leaving the scene, changing her hair color, getting rid of her clothes, deleting the text messages, not turning herself into the State Patrol until her stepdaughter demanded that she do so, all contributed to the guilty verdicts.

    I've always thought her attorney did not do a great job of advising her, especially allowing the "chicken" game with the State Patrol to go on for so long - trying to get the State Patrol to figure out who was driving rather than admitting it right away. I think public opinion was that Ms. Senser was trying to get away with something, and I bet you anything those thoughts carried into the jury room as well. Her attorney should give the Sensers back all the money her charged them, because he did not do a good job for his client. In fact, he hurt her more than the prosecution did.

    I believe justice was served. I was hit by a driver in 1981 and my grandson was hit by a driver in 2003 and neither driver drove away saying, "I didn't know I hit a person." In fact, the driver who hit me, I was a pedestrian, stayed with me in the emergency room until I was discharged. Thank goodness, there are more of those kind of drivers out there than Amy Senser types, who drive off leaving someone to die on the pavement without even calling 911 and then spend months afterwards trying to figure out how to get out of it.

    Senser should apologize to the family every day rather than wait until sentencing.