Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Car Accident > Georgia Supreme Court Orders New Trial in Fatal Car Accident Case

Georgia Supreme Court Orders New Trial in Fatal Car Accident Case


Car accidents are an unfortunate everyday occurrence in Georgia. Many people are seriously injured or killed in such accidents. Yet in most cases, the person who caused the accident only faces civil liability, such as a personal injury lawsuit filed by the victim. The mere fact that the accident occurred is not necessarily a criminal offense.

Obviously, if someone intentionally rams their car into another person, that is a crime. Likewise, if a person driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs seriously injures or kills someone, they can also be charged with a crime even if they never intended to hurt anyone. But generally speaking, the state must prove a defendant acted with criminal intent in hitting someone with their car.  “Criminal intent” does not mean the intent to violate the law, but rather the intent to commit the act that violates the law.

Accident or Murder?

In such cases, the defense can also present evidence that what happened was, in fact, just a tragic accident. Under Georgia court rules, if there is even “slight” evidence to support an accident defense, the trial judge must instruct the jury accordingly. Failure to give such an instruction may be a reversible error.

Indeed, the Georgia Supreme Court recently reversed a malice murder conviction in a case arising from what the defendant argued was a fatal accident. This case, Schmitt v. State, involved a fatal collision between the defendant’s car and the victim. At the time, the defendant was driving home through a residential neighborhood. The victim was standing in a driveway off the side of the road.

An altercation ensued between the victim and the defendant. It was not clear what exactly transpired, but apparently the victim may have thrown an object that struck the defendant’s car. The defendant then stopped short in the street, rolled down his window, and started arguing with the victim. At one point, the defendant decided to pull his vehicle off the street and into the driveway.

In making the turn, the defendant accelerated to about 15 miles per hour and veered to the right to avoid striking the victim. Unfortunately, the left edge of the defendant’s car struck the victim and he fell to the ground. The defendant immediately got out of his car and tried to help the victim. But the victim died as the result of a blunt force injury to his head.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with malice murder, arguing he intentionally struck and killed the victim with his car. The trial judge refused to instruct the jury on an accident defense. The jury subsequently found the defendant guilty of murder.

On appeal, however, the Supreme Court held the trial judge erred in refusing the accident instruction. The prosecution’s case turned on whether the defendant acted with criminal negligence–i.e., an utter disregard for the victim’s safety. But as the Supreme Court noted, there was evidence presented at trial that supported the defendant’s position that there was no criminal intent and that this was simply an unfortunate accident. As such, the defendant was entitled to a new trial.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

The lawyers at Hawkins Spizman have more experience handling Vehicular Homicide cases than perhaps any other law firm in Georgia.  When facing any serious criminal charge in Georgia, you have the right to present evidence and arguments in your defense. An experienced Dunwoody criminal defense lawyer can review your case and advise you on the best course of action. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn