Did Toyota Cause a Wrongul Conviction in Minnesota?

Could this man be doing 8 years in prisonin Minnesota for a fatal accident because of a Toyota faulty gas pedal? (hat tip to Scribe.)

The convicted man is a recent Hmong immigrant. He insisted he did everything he could to avoid the accident and hit the brakes.

Lee, a recent Hmong immigrant with only about a year of driving experience, was driving his pregnant wife, 4-year-old daughter, father and brother home from church the afternoon of June 10, 2006, when their Camry zoomed up an Interstate 94 exit ramp in St. Paul. Police said it was traveling between 70 and 90 mph when it rear-ended an Oldsmobile stopped at a red light.

Good for the prosecutor who said he's willing to take another look at the case.

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    The prosecutor was saying different 2 weeks ago (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Gisleson on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 01:24:16 AM EST
    Phil Carruthers, the prosecutor, was saying there was no reason to reopen the case just a couple of weeks ago. After some very mild pressure from the local media (and growing national interest in Toyota) Carruthers suddenly reversed himself.

    Reason pointed out that Koua Fong Lee was tried in the wake of Cha Vang being convicted of the murder of six Wisconsin hunters. Lee was convicted based on the testimony of a city mechanic who claimed the car could not have malfunctioned in the way Lee described.

    There was never a good case against Lee who was coming home from church with his family. I've seen people speeding to get to church, but never on their trip home.

    It's very hard not to see this as having been a political prosecution. Nancy Gaertner, the Ramsey County Attorney when Lee was tried, is now running for governor.

    No... (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by kdog on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 07:13:40 AM EST
    I think it more accurate to say Toyota mighta caused a fatal car accident, the state of Minny causing a wrongful conviction.

    Hope they are able to resolve it (none / 0) (#1)
    by athyrio on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 09:48:12 PM EST
    soon so he can be returned to his family..

    Even if he was (as is likely) mistakenly standing on the gas instead of the brake, it does not seem that he should be taking up space in prison.  

    My sentiments (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by JamesTX on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 01:54:19 AM EST
    exactly. This idea of punishing people for accidents and random events is a relatively recent phenomenon that seemed to come on board with conservative movement intolerance.

    At least it was just recently revived. It actually has long and nasty history. There was a dormant period for this type of activity during which civilized people stopped thinking that way. Then it returned to life with Reagan. It is similar to executing people for causing earthquakes -- a favorite activity of the same genre from some of the worst periods for human rights in Western history.

    The idea first gained steam as part of the backlash. For the religio-nutwhacks the appeal was that they could exact their pound of flesh from sinners who accidentally killed someone while sinning, and for the fiscal pigs it was the delicious idea of proper punishment for the poor who dared do anything that carried risk without financial responsibility (such as driving a car).

    I guess it is rationalized in contemporary legal reasoning as responsibility for recklessness and negligence, but that is a particularly poor rationalization because there are so many risky activities which can be causally connected to injury but which don't get the same response. It's primarily specific activities and specific classes of people who are targeted rather than risk and negligence in general, meaning the real motivation is to go after the people or the activity rather than generally punishing deadly negligence.

    The MADD folks were a classical forerunner, and it spread after that. Then the idea shifted from being a new and creative way for conservatives to punish activities they disapproved of to simply becoming institutionalized, and when it became institutionalized it started getting applied to more people and more situations where the injustice really shines.

    The problem is, the causal connection is often tenuous at best and the punishment isn't appropriate except when viewed in terms of prejudice toward the specific activity or behavior. That is, a person over the critical blood alcohol level can have an accident where someone is killed and it is quite possible that the accident wasn't caused by the alcohol. If the person is convicted and punished for murder by alcohol, then what we are saying is that we are willing to ignore the truth and claim that the person murdered when they did not, simply because we feel drinking behind the wheel is so egregious that it is worth lying about in order to punish the person. We are willing to lie to get the result we want. Laws based in lies will eventually cause the legal system to become incomprehensible and people will lose their respect for the law. When laws are based in lies, however popular the result of the laws are, the system that produces and uses such laws will eventually lose its moral integrity.

    This stuff has clearly now gotten out of hand to the point that there are cases like this that go unnoticed. It seems there is an increasing tendency to assume that all tragedies can be attributed to a culpable person, and that isn't true. Sometimes bad things happen for which no person is responsible. The assignment of culpability is usually based on the nearest person who is either in some disfavored class or participating in some unpopular activity. It's executing people for earthquakes all over again. Looks like its going to continue.


    To show how far the MADDness goes... (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Rojas on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 09:55:51 AM EST
    The Texas Forensic Science Commission who's mantra is "Justice Through Science" is prohibited by statute from examination of the science, or lack thereof, of breath alcohol testing.

    I'm sorry but that's crap (5.00 / 1) (#13)
    by Socraticsilence on Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 04:57:05 PM EST
    MADD did something necessary- if anything Drunk Driving is still too leniently punished- I don't see how Drunk Driving differs seriously from opening fire in a crowded resturant.

    Exaggerate much? (none / 0) (#15)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 08:36:39 AM EST
    Driving drunk is a far cry from opening fire in a crowded restaraunt.  Not in the same ballpark, not even the same sport.

    The cages aren't the solution to every societal problem.


    In theory it may be (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by jondee on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:33:55 AM EST
    quite a bit different, but in the real world, every time a drunk driver takes out a car full of kids, the outrage and indignation fueled MADD forces get stronger and the difference between the homocidal maniac and the the drunk driver becomes less in the minds of more people.



    I guess... (none / 0) (#25)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:38:03 AM EST
    if you lookin' at it like "a life tragically cut short is a life tragically cut short".  

    One thing I do know...the cages never brought anybody back from the dead.


    IOW, No Comparison (none / 0) (#26)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:41:10 AM EST
    ..... the outrage and indignation fueled MADD forces....

    It's a lynch mob, a quite irrational bunch.


    Maybe (none / 0) (#28)
    by jondee on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:52:49 AM EST
    but nothing brings out the irrational like minds unhinged by grief and outrage. Every figgin' time.  

    Just wait till a dd takes out a school bus; Homeland Security might get involved.


    Many are simply ignorant (none / 0) (#36)
    by Rojas on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 01:22:14 PM EST
    as evidenced by this thread.
    "The DUI Exception to the Constitution"

    You're talking about (none / 0) (#30)
    by jondee on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:55:36 AM EST
    a society deeply addicted to Old Testament retribution..would that it weren't so, but it is.

    Duck 'n cover, brother.


    I See (none / 0) (#32)
    by squeaky on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:02:43 PM EST
    So the guy or gal that shoots into a crowd gets praise because he or she shot some drunk drivers, child molesters, and general losers.

    Had not made the connection, but now that you mention it I realize that after the lynch mob does its business it reconvenes in church to get praise from god.


    Call me a totalitarian (none / 0) (#27)
    by jondee on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:49:11 AM EST
    Leninist, but I think licenses to drink should be issued the way licenses to drive are. If you take the test and it's determined that you're one of those people whose violent, destructive neural circuitry gets triggered by alcohol, you dont pass.

    Then balance the above by completely decriminalizing mj.


    Ok you totalitarian:) (none / 0) (#29)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:52:54 AM EST
    Sounds good on paper, like a lot of nanny-ish ideas, but unenforceable and a likely total beuracratic disaster in practice.

    How about classes (none / 0) (#31)
    by jondee on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:00:46 PM EST
    in how to get sh*t faced and influence people -- getting hammered as a spiritual path? Something..I'd rather be around plutonium than certain people (maybe half the population) when they drink..

    Is it nanny or teaching? Nothing wrong with a structured life lesson on occasion. We're all in school any way.


    I hear that... (none / 0) (#33)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:46:36 PM EST
    little worse than a mean nasty drunk...but I look at it as one of those costs of doing business on planet earth.  It ain't all peaches and cream.

    Requiring a license to drink is nanny-ing, imo...but nothing wrong with teaching.  The young-ins in my family are taught how to drink responsibly, and in moderation, well before they turn 21.  


    Why? (none / 0) (#16)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 08:46:54 AM EST
    Anyone who drinks and then gets behind the wheel of a car knowingly takes the risk, not only for him/herself, but for the passengers, and everyone else on the road, sidewalks, etc.  In that case, a car is a lethal weapon.

    What's the difference?


    Intent to kill... (none / 0) (#17)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 09:04:47 AM EST
    a guy who starts shooting in a crowded space, their sole intent is to kill.  

    A drunk driver is more akin to reckless endangerment with no intent to kill.


    Reckless endangerment (none / 0) (#18)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 10:02:40 AM EST
    By its very definition is a crime.

    The offense of recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to another person.

    A person doesn't need an intent to kill, but by the very action they take (such as drunk driving), they know there is a foreseeable risk of serious or deadly injury.


    Which is a far cry... (none / 0) (#19)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 10:05:19 AM EST
    from opening fire in a crowded space, is it not?

    I don't like drunk drivers as much as the next guy, but the hysteria is a little much.  And the punishments are becoming a bit much.


    I disagree (none / 0) (#20)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 10:09:33 AM EST
    Both are morally reprehensible. Both have the possible outcomes of killing people. Personally I think the fact that people who drive drunk usually get 3 or 4 shots in the justice system (which means they've done it waaay more times than that but just didn't get caught) before something is done about them is wrong.  You shouldn't get 3 or 4 chances to take my life into your hands just because I may be on the same road as you when you decide to be a jerk and drive drunk (or impaired).

    Put it this way... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 10:14:05 AM EST
    would you rather, if forced to choose...

    A) Sit in a diner where a gunman opens fire indiscriminantly

    B) Share a roadway with a drunk driver

    I'm taking B every time....in fact I probably experience B several times a week...never experienced A, thank the sun god.


    Neither (none / 0) (#22)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 10:56:47 AM EST
    They are both potential killers.

    C'mon... (none / 0) (#23)
    by kdog on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 11:12:57 AM EST
    you're no fun.  If forced to choose.

    Never mind, I know the answer...same as mine.


    is this really Minnesota law? (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 04:45:24 AM EST
    From Wikipedia:

    "In the state of Minnesota, vehicular homicide is one of the six levels of criminal vehicular operation, and is defined as causing the death of a person, that does not constitute murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, or in a negligent manner while in violation of the driving while intoxicated law, or where the driver flees the scene in violation of the felony fleeing law.[1] Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence.[2]"

    If the prosecution proved  mens rea at trial, then it doesn't matter if the pedal stuck or not.  If there was no mens rea, then he should be pardoned by the governor because the conviction itself is unjust.

    Well (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 08:25:05 AM EST
    "Gross negligence" IS the mens rea.

    A simple definition from law. com states that "gross negligence" is:

    n. carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people's rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is just shy of being intentionally evil.

    For example - a sleep-deprived pilot who flies a plane and crashes it may be guilty of gross negligence - he didn't have to have any intent to hurt anybody, but his "wanton and reckless" behavior makes him guilty.  It was probably the same thing here - this guy was driving like a maniac and recklessly and killed people.

    But if it really was his car that was out of control, then I hope he gets out and soon.


    Probably so.... (none / 0) (#9)
    by Rojas on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 09:12:26 AM EST
    After all, statistically the state gets it right most of the time... And with the city mechanic providing expert testimony... Close enough for government work.

    but... (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 07:00:24 PM EST
    Isn't accidentally hitting the gas pedal rather than the brake more an example of simple inadvertence than reckless disregard?  Otherwise you could say that every car accident is the result of reckless disregard.

    My personal opinion (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 07:22:14 AM EST
    And not a legal one, of course, is that, there are actually very few "accidents" on the road.  True, you could hit a random ice patch or a deer could dart out in front of you where you don't expect it, but in reality, most "accidents" are caused by someone not paying attention or doing something they aren't supposed to be doing (tailgating, speeding, running lights, not merging properly, not using a turn signal, weaving in and out of traffic, talking on the phone, texting, driving drunk, etc.)

    And of course, his version of the story was that he accidentally hit the gas pedal - who's to say in any situation that someone "accidentally" hit the gas instead of the brake?


    As much as I pride myself on (none / 0) (#34)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:53:15 PM EST
    being a careful and considerate driver, I got messed up with the pedals a few years ago and got in a minor accident, though luckily I only hit a steel post in a convenience store parking lot and my car was the only thing damaged.

    It was really freaky and happened in the flash of a second. The harder I stomped on (what I thought was only) the brake, the faster my car was accelerating across the small parking lot toward the 6 lanes of rush hour traffic in the street.

    It took every ounce of my conscious will to force myself to lift my foot up off (what I thought was only) the brake pedal - which, logically, would mean my car would hurtle even faster toward all the cars on the street - and then retry the brakes by slamming that foot back down on the brake pedal.

    No one in their right mind would call my hitting both the brake and gas at the same time reckless disregard.

    With the guy in the article, it would seem there are 3 general possibilities, 1) mechanical failure 2) inadvertently momentarily distracted driver and 3) willfully reckless driver.

    inal, so I don't know what all that means legally, but it seems to me the three situations would have three different levels of consequences for the driver.


    Maybe I should restate them as: (none / 0) (#35)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Mar 01, 2010 at 12:58:10 PM EST
    1) mechanical failure 2) inadvertently reckless driver and 3) willfully reckless driver.

    There was a case in Tarrant County Texas (none / 0) (#6)
    by Rojas on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 07:08:23 AM EST
    From about the same period, 2005 I believe. A child died, penned between the car and garage door. The mother and driver claimed sudden acceleration. I think it was a Camry, but could be mistaken.
    They claimed she had a BAC of ~.05 (don't know if breath or blood)and were going to charge her with intoxication manslaughter despite being well below the statutory limit.

    Perhaps an attorney with access to the docket can drill down and see if my recollection is correct.

    Does using a cell phone while driving - or texting (none / 0) (#11)
    by jawbone on Sat Feb 27, 2010 at 10:05:40 AM EST
    while driving -- constitute "carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others"?

    Last Halloween, I watched an example of seeming cell phone involvement in an accident, but it could also be simple inattention. Or someone new to an area and didn't understand how the traffic lights worked.

    Young woman next to me was on her cell phone (using it handheld, which is illegal while driving, but does a stop at a light constitute driving under the law?) at a stop light. The intersection has 5 lanes headed north, across a state hiway. She was in the rightmost lane heading straight, with a right turn lane to her right, me to her left, then two left turning lanes. Southbound had two left turning lanes and two straight ahead lanes.  

    The lights signal the left turners first (slightly staggered, with northbound going first by a few seconds), then they get a red light and the straight ahead traffice, along with the right turn lane, go next, again a few seconds ahead of the southbound traffic.

    The young woman saw traffic moving and just drove into the intersection and into one car from southbound turning left.

    So, what was it? Simple accident? Inattentive driving? If someone had been badly injured, would it have been gross negligence -- or does that require something additional?

    It is, however, becoming more and more common to bring criminal charges when accidents lead to bodily injury or death.