8/3/2016New York Fights To Save Vision Zero Law
New York City, New York court strikes down law that presumes guilt of motorists involved in conflict with pedestrians and bicyclists.
Officials in New York City, New York will fight to save a key "Vision Zero" law that automatically shifts blame on motorists in the event of a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist. The Queens County District Attorney will appeal a late June ruling by New York City Criminal Court Judge Gia L. Morris that the controversial statue violated due process rights.
Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the law, which imposes a fifteen-day jail sentence, plus a $50 fine, on any motorist who "fails to yield" to a bicycle or pedestrian. The penalty climbs to $250 and thirty day in jail in the event of an injury collision.
The law was used against school bus driver Isaac Sanson who in December struck an elderly woman who had crossed the street in front of his bus while it was turning right. Prosecutors argued that the statute criminalized "ordinary negligence" that results in a failure to yield, whether or not the action causes injuries. This went too far, the court determined, since the traditional standard for establishing criminal guilt requires showing the defendant was aware that he was doing something wrong -- referred to by the legal term "mens rea."
"[The] Right of Way law is unconstitutional on its face since it improperly utilizes a civil tort negligence standard in a criminal case in lieu of a culpable mens rea," Judge Morris ruled. "The very fabric of our criminal justice system is that an accused person stands before a court innocent until proven guilty, and is entitled to significant constitutional protections separate and distinct from a civil case... Such use of a civil tort liability standard of negligence in a criminal case violates a defendant's rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the federal constitution and state constitutional protections. Specifically, it violates a defendant's right to due process, to be presumed innocent, and a defendant's rights against self-incrimination."
While city officials decried the ruling, the union representing bus drivers celebrated it.
"Judge Morris clearly, forcefully and correctly ruled that Bill de Blasio essentially trampled on the Constitution, and on the rights of hard working, conscientious MTA Bus Operators," union president John Samuelsen said. "The judge has validated Transport Workers Union Local 100's objection to these wrongful arrests in the aftermath of accidents."
A copy of the June 28 ruling is available in a 2.1mb PDF file at the source link below.