BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A tide of outrage over the stunning verdict in the trial of Dr. James Corasanti has prompted a new crusade to change the law.
Based on jury statements after the trial, prosecutors did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dr. Corasanti knew he struck and killed Alexandria Rice last year, even though he was driving drunk. Some consider that a "loophole" in the law, and State Senator Patrick Gallivan says he has just the thing to close it.
"As I thought and thought about it, it just seemed to me that something didn't seem quite right," he said.
Corasanti was acquitted on all felony counts in his trial last week for the hit-and-run death of Alix Rice last July. Despite the jury finding Corasanti guilty of driving while intoxicated, Corasanti testified he did not know he had hit the teenager as she steered her long board home from work on Heim Road.
As the law stands, prosecutors have to prove Corasanti knew or had reason to know he struck Alix. Gallivan wants to shift the burden of proof onto the defendant.
He explained, "It says either you have to know or have reason to know. Or, if you're operating in violation of vehicle and traffic laws that relates to driving while intoxicated or impaired."
For Gallivan, a former sheriff and state police officer, the jury's finding in Corasanti's favor due to a perceived loophole in the law defies common sense.
Gallivan said, "Their intoxication or impairment seemingly could provide a defense that they didn't know. It's crazy. And it just defies common sense; so we're trying to fix it."
Former Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark agrees a slight change in New York's vehicle and traffic laws might have made a difference.
"I think that if there was a rebuttable presumption in this case, I think that there is a strong, strong likelihood the jury would have come back and found him guilty, at least, of leaving the scene," Clark said.
And Clark sai shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defendant when the driver is impaired, or otherwise driving illegally, could be just the thing to provide justice in a drunk driving case resulting in death.
"You are presumed to know that you hit someone. And the burden of proof then shifts onto the defendant to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he didn't know that he hit someone. That is a big, big difference," he said.
Clark adds, this new measure would send a strong message to drivers involved in serious accidents to stick around at the scene. The Corasanti verdict, says Clark, seems to have the opposite effect.
You can read details of the bill from Senator Gallivan's Office below:
TITLE OF BILL:
An act to amend the vehicle and traffic law, in relation to leaving the scene of an incident without reporting
This bill amends subdivisions 1 and 2 of Section 600 of the vehicle and traffic law (VTL) in relation to leaving the scene of an incident without reporting to include operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:
Adds operating a vehicle element of the crime of reporting. under the influence of alcohol or drugs as an leaving scene of an incident without
Currently states that a person must knowingly or have cause to know that they caused personal injury or property damage to be guilty of leaving scene of an incident without reporting.
Too often drunk drivers flee the scene of an accident to avoid being accountable for their actions. In some cases, they leave seriously injured or dying victims at the scene of impact. Current law requires that a prosecutor prove that a drunk driver knowingly or had cause to know that they caused personal injury or property damage. This law modifies that statue so that drivers illegally operating their vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol are held accountable when leaving the scene of an accident.
In a recent Erie County criminal case, 18-year-old Alix Rice, while riding her longboard, was killed by a drunk driver who fled the scene of the crime. The defendant argued that he was not aware he had hit a person and his defense team was successful in getting him acquitted on the Felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Meanwhile, the defendant was convicted of operating a vehicle while under the
influence of alcohol.
Drunk drivers are already in violation of the law when operating a motor vehicle. Additionally, their perception and awareness are compromised. Because of these factors, the burden should not fall on the prosecution to prove an intoxicated driver's knowledge of causing an accident. Instead the intoxicated driver should be held fully accountable whenever an accident occurs.
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: New Bill.
FISCAL IMPLICATIONS: None.
LOCAL FISCAL IMPLICATIONS:None.
EFFECTIVE DATE: Immediate.
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