In the Maryland General Assembly, House Bill 363 (Manslaughter by Vehicle or Vessel, criminal negligence) unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee, with amendments. The bill would create a new crime of negligent homicide by vehicle or vessel, with a maximum term of three years.
The existing crime of manslaughter by vehicle requires proof that the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial risk of killing someone. Except for drivers who were either drunk or at least 30 mph faster than the speed of traffic, no one has been convicted unless a witness at trial testified as to the driver’s state of mind, which makes it impossible to convict most solo drivers.
Maryland is one of only a handful of states where a conviction for vehicular homicide is so difficult. Under House Bill 363, it will be possible to convict a defendant who should have known there was a risk of killing someone, without proving that the defendant actually knew about the risk.
Passing the House Judiciary Committee is a major milestone. The bill has been introduced each of the last seven years, but never brought to a vote, due to the opposition of Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario (D-Prince Georges).
If you live in Maryland, please call your delegates and ask them to support the bill. Even if you only get their staff, calls make a much greater impression than emails. But emails are certainly worthwhile if you can only find the time after business hours.
Please act as soon as you can, because bills move fast this time of year. The amended bill has not yet been posted. In the next few days, we will provide an update on the amendments and what we need to do next.
(The author, Jim Titus, is a Member of the WABA Board of Directors and resident of Prince George’s County, MD.)