Is This Justice?

George Costanza

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Eight miles or so northeast of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel mountains cut across the San Gabriel Valley, separating the greater Los Angeles Area from the High Desert. Now, there are three or four ways to traverse the San Gabriels if you want to drive up, into Northern California. Sixty years ago, there were only a couple of ways to do it.

One of those ways was (and still is) a steep and winding two-lane road called the Angeles Crest Highway. It is very steep going up, in a northerly direction and it is equally steep going down in a southerly direction from the summit into the town of La Canada-Flintridge.

Two years ago, a truck driver by the name of Marcos Costa, was bringing his big rig down the Angeles Crest, headed for La Canada-Flintridge. Somewhere along the way, the brakes went out on his rig. Marcos was unable to stop the huge truck and it ended up hitting a passenger vehicle occupied by Angel Posca and his 12-year-old daughter. They both died in the crash.

Last week, Marcos Costa was sentenced to seven and one-half years in state prison, following his conviction for vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. Prior to this accident, Marcos Costa had led an exemplary life, never getting into any kind of trouble.

Whenever I read something like this, I want to throw up. One of the first things that is taught to first year criminal law students is the concept of mens rea. Here is how Wiki defines that term:

Mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind". In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind be also guilty". Thus, in jurisdictions with due process, there must be an actus reus accompanied by some level of mens rea to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged (see the technical requirement of concurrence). As a general rule, criminal liability does not attach to a person who acted with the absence of mental fault. The exception is strict liability crimes.
Note the last sentence of that quote - strict liability crimes. Strict liability crimes do not require a guilty mind. All you have to do to be guilty of a strict liability crime is commit the prohibited act. Once again, Wiki:

The liability is said to be strict because defendants will be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. The defendants may therefore not be culpable in any real way, i.e. there is not even criminal negligence, the least blameworthy level of mens rea.
It should be noted that the vast majority of strict liability crimes do not involve serious offenses or confinement in jail or prison as punishment. Parking tickets are strict liability crimes.

Which brings me to vehicular manslaughter. Any way you want to slice it, a death caused by an automobile accident does not involve mens rea or criminal intent. It is an ACCIDENT. The last thing in the world that Marcos Costa wanted to have happen that day two years ago, was what did happen. Furthermore, once his brakes failed, he was powerless to prevent it and probably did everything he could to stop it from happening.

Yet Marcos now goes off to state prison for seven and one half years. This is not justice.

Of course the deaths were tragic. Of course if Marcos and/or his employer were at fault in any way for the accident, they should be required to pay appropriate damages to the injured family of the people who died by way of a CIVIL action in a CIVIL court.

Think on this - vehicular manslaughter is the only crime I know of where your wife can get in her car, go to the store, and wind up in state prison without ever being allowed to return to the family home until she has served her sentence.

What are we doing here?

p.s. - I am aware that the brakes on the truck failed, which was the primary cause of the accident. I am also aware that that should not have happened and whoever allowed it to happen is at fault for what took place because of their negligence in not keeping the brakes in good shape. That does not mean that this was done with any criminal intent, however and, unless criminal intent is proven, this case belongs only in a civil court, not a criminal court.
 
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George Costanza

George Costanza

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As usual, no link is provided.
What do you mean, "as usual"? I always try to provide links whenever I can. The article on this came to me this morning in a throwaway paper called the Valley Sun out of La Canada/Flintridge. I didn't think to provide a link because I didn't think they even had a Web site. Turns out they do. Here is the link:

Family is happy Costa trial is over - LA Canada
 

percysunshine

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As usual, no link is provided.
What do you mean, "as usual"? I always try to provide links whenever I can. The article on this came to me this morning in a throwaway paper called the Valley Sun out of La Canada/Flintridge. I didn't think to provide a link because I didn't think they even had a Web site. Turns out they do. Here is the link:

Family is happy Costa trial is over - LA Canada
Thanks.

There is still not enough info in the article to decide if 3 1/2 years is appropriate. Did the driver know he had bad brakes and neglected to have them fixed? Was he drunk? We don't know the specifics.

In general; I agree that, barring any extenuating circumstances, an accident does not merit anything that severe. A fine, revocation of driving priveleges, and enough time in jail for a person to think about it would be better.
 
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George Costanza

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There is still not enough info in the article to decide if 3 1/2 years is appropriate. Did the driver know he had bad brakes and neglected to have them fixed? Was he drunk? We don't know the specifics.
I think I covered this in my p.s. to the opening post. If the driver knew he had bad brakes and neglected to have them fixed, we are getting out of the area of plain negligence and into the area of gross negligence - but we are still in the civil arena, not criminal. I think if he was drunk, that would have been mentioned in the article.

But I did have the same thought as you here - the article is a little sketchy as to the justification for the seven year sentence. Still in all, absent proof that the truck driver did this intentionally, so long as it was an accident, I do not agree with criminal prosecution.

BTW - I know the judge who imposed this sentence. He was a young d.a. back in the early 1990's and we had to deal with him in our court. He was what we called a Mad Dog D.A. - very uncompromising, very ego driven, very unreasonable. Easy to see why he is now on the bench . . . . but that's another issue.
 

koshergrl

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They wouldn't have mentioned it in the article if the article's purpose was to push an agenda that would be harmed by that information.
 

Tank

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Prosecutors argued that Costa showed gross negligence by ignoring an off-duty firefighter's warning that Angeles Crest Highway was too dangerous for his truck and he should turn around.

Prosecutors said that although Costa poured water on his smoking brakes, he didn't wait for them to cool down before continuing on the highway. The truck hurtled down a one-mile descent.

Involuntary Manslaughter for Big-Rig Driver | NBC Los Angeles
 

koshergrl

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Bingo.

Yes, justice was served.
 
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Your vehicle. Your brakes. Your negligence. Your fault. Your consequence. Works for me.
 

Tank

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Costa’s attorney said he saw no signs barring truck traffic but prosecutors said Costa willfully ignored countless warnings that should have given him pause, including an off-duty firefighter flagging him down to say smoke was spewing from his wheels.

“It was miles and miles and miles of smoke billowing from his brakes telling him something was wrong,” assistant district attorney Carolina Lugo said. “There were just so many opportunities to stop.”

A post-crash inspection revealed that five of the 10 truck brakes either weren’t working or not adjusted correctly. The five working brakes showed signs of overheating or cracking on the pads, according to court documents.

Judge sentences Mass. truck driver to 7 years for deadly runaway crash in California - The Washington Post
 

Quantum Windbag

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Eight miles or so northeast of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel mountains cut across the San Gabriel Valley, separating the greater Los Angeles Area from the High Desert. Now, there are three or four ways to traverse the San Gabriels if you want to drive up, into Northern California. Sixty years ago, there were only a couple of ways to do it.

One of those ways was (and still is) a steep and winding two-lane road called the Angeles Crest Highway. It is very steep going up, in a northerly direction and it is equally steep going down in a southerly direction from the summit into the town of La Canada-Flintridge.

Two years ago, a truck driver by the name of Marcos Costa, was bringing his big rig down the Angeles Crest, headed for La Canada-Flintridge. Somewhere along the way, the brakes went out on his rig. Marcos was unable to stop the huge truck and it ended up hitting a passenger vehicle occupied by Angel Posca and his 12-year-old daughter. They both died in the crash.

Last week, Marcos Costa was sentenced to seven and one-half years in state prison, following his conviction for vehicular manslaughter and reckless driving. Prior to this accident, Marcos Costa had led an exemplary life, never getting into any kind of trouble.

Whenever I read something like this, I want to throw up. One of the first things that is taught to first year criminal law students is the concept of mens rea. Here is how Wiki defines that term:

Mens rea is Latin for "guilty mind". In criminal law, it is viewed as one of the necessary elements of a crime. The standard common law test of criminal liability is usually expressed in the Latin phrase, actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, which means "the act does not make a person guilty unless the mind be also guilty". Thus, in jurisdictions with due process, there must be an actus reus accompanied by some level of mens rea to constitute the crime with which the defendant is charged (see the technical requirement of concurrence). As a general rule, criminal liability does not attach to a person who acted with the absence of mental fault. The exception is strict liability crimes.
Note the last sentence of that quote - strict liability crimes. Strict liability crimes do not require a guilty mind. All you have to do to be guilty of a strict liability crime is commit the prohibited act. Once again, Wiki:

The liability is said to be strict because defendants will be convicted even though they were genuinely ignorant of one or more factors that made their acts or omissions criminal. The defendants may therefore not be culpable in any real way, i.e. there is not even criminal negligence, the least blameworthy level of mens rea.
It should be noted that the vast majority of strict liability crimes do not involve serious offenses or confinement in jail or prison as punishment. Parking tickets are strict liability crimes.

Which brings me to vehicular manslaughter. Any way you want to slice it, a death caused by an automobile accident does not involve mens rea or criminal intent. It is an ACCIDENT. The last thing in the world that Marcos Costa wanted to have happen that day two years ago, was what did happen. Furthermore, once his brakes failed, he was powerless to prevent it and probably did everything he could to stop it from happening.

Yet Marcos now goes off to state prison for seven and one half years. This is not justice.

Of course the deaths were tragic. Of course if Marcos and/or his employer were at fault in any way for the accident, they should be required to pay appropriate damages to the injured family of the people who died by way of a CIVIL action in a CIVIL court.

Think on this - vehicular manslaughter is the only crime I know of where your wife can get in her car, go to the store, and wind up in state prison without ever being allowed to return to the family home until she has served her sentence.

What are we doing here?

p.s. - I am aware that the brakes on the truck failed, which was the primary cause of the accident. I am also aware that that should not have happened and whoever allowed it to happen is at fault for what took place because of their negligence in not keeping the brakes in good shape. That does not mean that this was done with any criminal intent, however and, unless criminal intent is proven, this case belongs only in a civil court, not a criminal court.
Mens rea is increasingly becoming a non factor in our criminal justice system. We need more judges to draw the line.

Federal Judge Tosses Florida Drug Law for Lack of Mens Rea - Criminal Law - U.S. Eleventh Circuit
 

Sunshine

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Prosecutors argued that Costa showed gross negligence by ignoring an off-duty firefighter's warning that Angeles Crest Highway was too dangerous for his truck and he should turn around.

Prosecutors said that although Costa poured water on his smoking brakes, he didn't wait for them to cool down before continuing on the highway. The truck hurtled down a one-mile descent.

Involuntary Manslaughter for Big-Rig Driver | NBC Los Angeles
Costa’s attorney said he saw no signs barring truck traffic but prosecutors said Costa willfully ignored countless warnings that should have given him pause, including an off-duty firefighter flagging him down to say smoke was spewing from his wheels.

“It was miles and miles and miles of smoke billowing from his brakes telling him something was wrong,” assistant district attorney Carolina Lugo said. “There were just so many opportunities to stop.”

A post-crash inspection revealed that five of the 10 truck brakes either weren’t working or not adjusted correctly. The five working brakes showed signs of overheating or cracking on the pads, according to court documents.

Judge sentences Mass. truck driver to 7 years for deadly runaway crash in California - The Washington Post
When someone ignores strong warnings like he did, the event is no ordinary 'accident.' It certainly appears he could have taken an alternative route, was advised to do so, but did not. Moreover, he could have ditched the truck before driving through an intersection where he killed two people, and then continued on.

I agree. Justice was served.
 

koshergrl

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Criminal intent, as I understand it, is the intent to do something against the law.

I think it's against the law to knowingly drive a vehicle with faulty equipment, particularly a bigger rig. I know I've gotten a ticket for not having properly working equipment on my private car (turn signal, brake light)
 

Sunshine

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Criminal intent, as I understand it, is the intent to do something against the law.

I think it's against the law to knowingly drive a vehicle with faulty equipment, particularly a bigger rig. I know I've gotten a ticket for not having properly working equipment on my private car (turn signal, brake light)
If the equipment is not known to be faulty, then it could get into a product liability issue. From what I read, I don't think the brakes were as much an issue as the fact that this loose nut behind the wheel ignored warnings not to take the route he took.
 

koshergrl

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Ooohhh..I see.

Well anyway, he's lucky he didn't get more time. What an ass. I can't tell you how many times trucker assholes have almost killed me on winter roads because they're going too fast, kicking up rocks, snow, ice, mist...you know they can't stop, and in fact regularly plow into cars because they can't stop, or because they jacknife adn everybody around them gets sucked into it.
 

Liability

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Intent is the conscious objective.

Negligence requires no specific intent.

There are, as noted, varying DEGREES of negligence.

In NY, it is absolutely possible for a person to get convicted of a crime based on depravity or negligence or intent.

The "facts" minimally set out in a newspaper article do not give us sufficient information to determine whether justice was served here or not.
 

tonystewart1

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Prosecutors argued that Costa showed gross negligence by ignoring an off-duty firefighter's warning that Angeles Crest Highway was too dangerous for his truck and he should turn around.

Prosecutors said that although Costa poured water on his smoking brakes, he didn't wait for them to cool down before continuing on the highway. The truck hurtled down a one-mile descent.

Involuntary Manslaughter for Big-Rig Driver | NBC Los Angeles
This guys jake brake must have been weak or not working. If the hill is so steep that he could not find a gear that would allow him to come down without using his air brakes the whole way he should have taken another route.
 

Harry Dresden

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As usual, no link is provided.
What do you mean, "as usual"? I always try to provide links whenever I can. The article on this came to me this morning in a throwaway paper called the Valley Sun out of La Canada/Flintridge. I didn't think to provide a link because I didn't think they even had a Web site. Turns out they do. Here is the link:

Family is happy Costa trial is over - LA Canada
.he was told to take the Freeway around to were he was going and ignored all that and did it anyway.....and what i heard on the news, he had stopped and poured water on his smoking breaks.....instead of just stopping and calling the company and tell them the brakes are going i cant go any further i am on a hill.....he kept on going.....how sorry can you feel for this guy?......he saw his breaks were not doing the job....

The Associated Press: Runaway big rig driver gets prison in deadly crash
 

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