Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vehicular manslaughter by bicycle....Can it happen?

The City of Seattle is the most bicycle friendly city I have ever lived in.  Literally thousands and thousands of people ride their bicycle to work every morning.  As someone who commutes into downtown Seattle, driving next to a bicyclist can be very trying.  Especially when the bicyclist is an aggressive rider and they don't follow the rules of the road.  

Well something happened in San Francisco recently that may make bicyclists think twice about riding aggressively.  A bicyclist recently pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter after he rode through a red light and hit a 71 year old man back in March of 2012.  The man died four days later from injuries suffered from the collision.

So how is this vehicular manslaughter?  Well the first issue you want to determine is whether a bicycle is considered a vehicle.  Under Washington State law for example RCW 46.04.670 expressly states a "vehicle includes a device capable of being moved on a public highway, including bicycles."  I imagine this statue is very similar to the California one, so yes a bicycle is considered a vehicle.

The next issue you would want to look at is whether this is actually manslaughter.  If you watched any of the Zimmerman trial than you know manslaughter is considered a less culpable crime than murder.  Usually lacking the mens rea or the intent to kill someone.  

The facts of the San Francisco case are as follows.  The defendant was riding his bicycle in the Castro district in SF.  Witnesses say he was riding bicycle recklessly.  He came upon a light that turned red.  He continued to ride through the light and a group of pedestrians started to cross the street at the crosswalk.  The defendant struck a 71 year old man knocking him down and subsequently causing his death.  

So even though there was no case law in the entire country with similar facts the San Francisco DA's office decided to file charges.  And I think based on the law, and the facts of the case they had a sufficient basis to file the charge.  

So can you get a vehicular manslaughter charge if you kill a pedestrian while riding your bicycle?  Yes you can.  Be careful out there. 

About the author: Matthew Leyba is a DUI Lawyer in Seattle. He is currently ranked as a Top DUI Attorney by Avvo, and named a Rising Star in DUI Defense by Super Lawyers Magazine.  An honor less than 2.5% of all Lawyers receive. 

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