Most auto accidents do not end with an arrest, unless there are allegations of drunk driving, street racing, or some other outrageous act. This is because the law generally treats car accidents as civil issues for which victims can make a claim with alleged at-fault driver’s car insurance company or file a civil personal injury claim if it can’t be settled.
In some cases, prosecutors charge defendant with a crime, in addition to any civil lawsuit brought by victims. In the prosecution of any criminal case, the constitution requires defendant have a fair trail, and this means defendant must have the mental capacity to stand trial. More specifically, defendant must understand the nature of the offense and the roles of the parties, including judge, defense attorney, and prosecutor.
A recent case from The Citizen-Times discusses this issue. Authorities alleged defendant, from Leicester, was involved in a car crash in Buncombe County in December 2011. During that crash, it is alleged defendant was driving while intoxicated (DWI), and prosecutors eventually charged her with serious bodily injury while driving and DWI.
The long delay in prosecuting defendant is due to her current mental capacity as a result of a traumatic brain injury she suffered in the collision. A judge is still trying to determine whether she has the capacity to stand trial in connection with victim’s injuries. Victim suffered extensive personal injury, including head trauma, and is still unable to speak years after the accident. She requires constant medical attention.
At this point, doctors do not believe defendant will ever regain competence to stand trial. They say she has a child-like intellect, and this is not going to change. The problem is that if she cannot be prosecuted, there are only two choices. They can simply dismiss the case and release her into the community, or they can have an involuntary commitment hearing to have her civilly committed to a North Carolina psychiatric hospital until she is healthy enough to leave, which means she could be there for the rest of her life. Prosecutors and family members of the complaining witness (alleged victim) want her to be committed. Her attorney is fighting for her freedom. In a seeming act of compassion, the alleged victim’s family, while they are not willing to forgive defendant for her alleged drunk driving, want her to get treatment rather than go to jail.
As our Asheville injury attorneys understand, criminal cases often take priority over civil lawsuits for a variety of reasons. First, there is the issue of the privilege against self-incrimination. Until a criminal case has been resolved, defendant cannot be required to answer questions, including interrogatories and deposition questions in a civil case.
However, this does not mean that what happens in a criminal case will not affect what happens in a later civil case. For that reason, it is best to speak with an experienced car accident attorney prior to speaking with prosecutors. Even though prosecutors want defendants to receive justice and be held responsible, they are likely more concerned with the criminal case than a victim’s future civil lawsuit.
Contact the Asheville, North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Mental capacity of woman charged in Asheville wreck at issue , April 16, 2015, Citizen Times
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