I just finished trying a vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle case this week. We were very fortunate to avoid a felony vehicular homicide conviction, but we were convicted of the serious injury by vehicle charge. Georgia's serious injury by vehicle states, in relevant part, that a person commits the offense when they cause harm to another person by depriving him of a member of his body, by rendering a member of his body useless, by seriously disfiguring his body or a member thereof, or by causing organic brain damage which renders the body or any member thereof useless while they are driving recklessly or DUI. The serious injury by vehicle charge is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. See, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-394
THE REAL PROBLEM WITH SERIOUS INJURY BY VEHICLE CHARGES
Beyond the obvious difficulties, the real problem with serious injury by vehicle charges in Georgia is that there is no lesser included offense that is comparable that we can argue to the jury. Unlike the vehicular homicide charge, we cannot look to a lesser included misdemeanor that directly relates to the injury that the victim has suffered. This really matters to trial lawyers defending these case. It put jurors in a very difficult scenario. Jurors do not have the “pressure release” of a lesser included offense with regard to the serious injury by vehicle charge. They are forced to simply say guilty or not guilty as to the serious injury by vehicle charge.
HOW DO WE COPE WITH SERIOUS INJURY BY VEHICLE CHARGES THEN?
We really have to focus on the terms of the indictment and the verdict form. We have to explain to jurors the importance of the underlying traffic offenses. We have to use the underlying traffic offenses as the lesser included offenses in these cases. Jurors have to know the significance of the serious injury by vehicle charge.
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