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Maryland bishop faces vehicular homicide charges

Good people are sometimes charged with felonies. The indictment of a Maryland Episcopal bishop earlier this month on charges that include vehicular homicide serves as an example. In cases like this, public outrage over the alleged misdeeds of a public figure can obscure the fact that like all people charged with a crime, the bishop is innocent until proven guilty.

The woman was arrested in late December after a traffic accident in which a 41-year-old cyclist was killed. Prosecutors allege the 58-year-old bishop struck the cyclist with her car as he rode in the bicycle lane of Roland Avenue in Baltimore. The bishop allegedly left the scene of the accident but returned later. Police claim she had a blood alcohol level of 0.22 percent. Authorities also say she was texting while driving at the time of the crash. The bishop faces thirteen charges including vehicular homicide; automobile manslaughter; DUI; texting while driving in connection with a fatal accident; and failing to remain at the accident scene.

Vehicular homicide charges do not require an intent to kill. Generally, reckless or negligent activity can sustain such a charge, and proof that the defendant was intoxicated and that the intoxication caused the victim's death may be sufficient. The defense can challenge the state's evidence of intoxication just as in any DUI case. Breathalyzer evidence can be thrown out if it can be shown the test was not administered correctly or the equipment was not properly calibrated.

The defense can also challenge the accusation that the alleged intoxication was the cause of the accident. Even if the defendant was intoxicated, if the accident was the other party's fault, the vehicular homicide charges should be dismissed.

Source: Baltimore Sun, "Bishop Cook indicted on vehicular homicide, drunken driving, other charges," Colin Campbell, Feb. 4, 2015

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