The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the manslaughter conviction against an illegal immigrant from Ecuador in a case that drew widespread media attention at the time of the crime. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Guaman.
On August 20, 2011, the defendant spent several hours drinking beer before getting into his pickup truck with his six-year-old son and brother. While driving in Milford, the defendant collided with the victim who had been driving a motorcycle. The victim was thrown over the top of the truck and ended up caught in the undercarriage of the vehicle. Instead of stopping and checking on the welfare of the victim, the defendant sped off, dragging the victim with him for almost a quarter of a mile. The victim and onlookers screamed at the defendant and banged on his truck in an effort to get him to stop, but he continued to drive. The collision had damaged the truck to the point that it could not turn left, which resulted in the defendant driving onto a curb and driving erratically. At some point the victim became dislodged from the defendant’s truck and he died on the street. The police responded and chased down the defendant, who initially refused to stop his truck. Eventually the cops forced a stop and pulled the defendant out of the vehicle. He had glassy, bloodshot eyes and was unsteady on his feet. There were open cans of beer all over the interior of his truck (along with a bunch of empties) and the defendant smelled like alcohol. The defendant admitted he had consumed at least six beers prior to running over the victim. He was convicted of OUI manslaughter and sentenced to serve 12-14 years in state prison.
The defendant’s primary argument on appeal was that there was insufficient evidence to support his manslaughter conviction. Involuntary manslaughter is appropriately charged when: (1) the defendant caused the victim’s death; (2) the defendant intended the conduct that caused the victim’s death; and (3) the defendant’s conduct was reckless or wanton. In this case, the defendant acknowledged that he killed the victim while driving under the influence of alcohol. However, he argued the Commonwealth failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his conduct was reckless or wanton. The defendant asserted he did not realize the victim was trapped underneath his truck and as a result of language and cultural barriers, he didn’t understand that the onlookers were screaming at him to stop driving. Further, according to the defendant, he did not knowingly risk the victim’s death by driving drunk.
The Appeals Court concluded the defendant’s behavior constituted recklessness, which is defined as intentional conduct that involves a high degree of likelihood that another person will be substantially harmed as a result. The Court ruled a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would have realized the serious risk posed by driving in such an impaired state. Further, after he struck the victim, the defendant should have realized the danger in continuing to drive. The jury could have justifiably determined the defendant intentionally ignored a number of warning signs related to his reckless conduct.
The defendant was sentenced to serve a period of probation following his incarceration, but it is likely he will be immediately deported after he is released from prison.