District Attorney Pat “Trey” Robison will not comment on the Crowley case. But Robison did provide a succinct explaination of charges related to motor vehicle fatalities. He wrote this in an email to an Enquirer-Journal reporter January 17, 2012, more than two months before Joshua Crowley was killed. His comments are about general traffic fatalities and were not in response to any investigation.
“The least serious (legally) of the vehicular homicide offenses in NC is Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. This offense occurs when there is a traffic accident which is the result of some violation of the traffic laws (excluding DWI) and someone dies as a result of the accident. It is a class 1 misdemeanor. This offense is typically charged when there are no other legally recognized aggravating circumstances surrounding the accident other than the traffic violation which caused the accident. This charge results from an ‘accident’ as opposed to inordinately reckless or malicious behavior.
“If there are other legally recognized aggravating aspects associated with the accident, the law will often support a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter. In such a situation, the accident will have needed to have been the product of particularly reckless conduct by the defendant that shows a thoughtless disregard for the consequences or a heedless indifference to the rights and safety of others. In other words, the defendant either knew or should have known he could hurt or kill someone through his conduct. It is a class F felony. Such a case might arise when the traffic accident was a result of very high speed of the defendant, texting while driving or other particularly egregiousdriving. It requires more bad acting on the part of the defendant than merely violating one of our traffic laws.
“Killing someone while drinking and driving would also be an Involuntary Manslaughter situation, although there are other, more serious offenses a defendant could be charged with in such a situation. For example, an appropriate charge in such a circumstance would be Felony Death by Motor Vehicle. It is a class E felony and, therefore, carries
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a harsher punishment than Involuntary Manslaughter. It requires only that the collision causing the victim’s death was the result of the defendant’s drunk driving.
“In some circumstances, a charge of Second Degree Murder may be appropriate, but it is fairly uncommon. In order to prove Second Degree Murder (whether it is a vehicular case or otherwise) the State must prove that the defendant acted with malice. Malice is different from mere reckless behavior. It is behavior that is so reckless that it manifests a mind utterly without regard for human life. In other words, the defendant just didn’t (care) about possibly hurting or killing other people. In order to move from Involuntary Manslaughter or Felony Death by Motor Vehicle to Second Degree Murder, the State must show really, really stupid or malicious conduct on the part of the defendant. Some examples would be driving drunk and killing someone when the defendant has already been convicted of DWI in the past, running from the police or street racing through populated areas. All of those behaviors have been recognized by the appellate courts of NC to demonstrate malice on the defendant’s part.
“A simple traffic accident, absent other factors, will not typically support a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter, let alone Second Degree Murder. There must be something more in order to charge the defendant with those offenses.”