Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle
Operating a motor vehicle negligently so as to endanger is a serious offense that results in a suspended driver's license and the potential of a jail sentence.Elements of Operating a Motor Vehicle Negligently so as to Endanger
A defendant can be convicted of operating a motor vehicle negligently so as to endanger if the Commonwealth proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:
- Operated (drove or otherwise controlled) a motor vehicle;
- On a public roadway (any road maintained by the government);
- In a negligent manner so that the lives or safety of the public might have been endangered.
The Commonwealth does not usually have a problem proving the first two elements. It's ordinarily clear from the evidence that the defendant was driving a car on a public road. The element that is typically in dispute is whether the defendant's operation constituted negligence that endangered the lives or the safety of the public.Negligence is a legal principal that essentially means an individual failed to use “due care” (act as a reasonably prudent person would act). Judges tell jurors that they should consider the following factors in determining whether the defendant's operation was negligent: the speed of the defendant's car and the manner in which the car was being driven; the physical condition of the defendant and how well the defendant could control the car; the physical condition of the car; the condition of the roadway; the weather conditions; the hour of the day; and whether there were a lot of other drivers on the road with the defendant. The surrounding circumstances matter a great deal - a defendant who is driving 75 miles per hour on Route 128 in the middle of the night with nobody else on the road will probably not be negligent. However, the defendant who drives 75 miles per hour on a secondary road at rush hour is much more culpable.
A car accident is not a requirement for a defendant to be convicted of negligent operation, as the issue is whether the defendant’s operation had the potential to cause an accident or to endanger anyone who might have been on the road. If an accident did occur, the defendant still is not necessarily negligent. In cases involving an accident, the judge tells jurors to consider all of the evidence regarding the cause of the accident to determine: (1) whether the accident involved negligence and, if so; (2) whether the negligence was on the part of the defendant.
If a motorist is charged with negligent operation of a motor vehicle and there was not a car accident, the Commonwealth will usually argue that a police officer witnessed the defendant driving in a manner that was not safe. Cops regularly come to court and tell juries that drivers were negligent because they were not obeying the speed limit, were dangerously passing other cars, were weaving through heavy traffic, or were crossing over the fog line or the double yellow line. Attorney Spring has extensive experience arguing that the police officers' conclusions that defendants were negligent should not be credited because there are many reasons that defendants drive erratically. Drivers are constantly distracted by other motorists, bad weather, the other occupants in their cars, and the ringing of cell phones. Momentary erratic operation that is quickly corrected by the driver is usually not sufficient evidence to support a criminal conviction. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant failed to use due care, then the defendant must be found not guilty.