The following is the text of the legal opinion portion of the NCRA Speed Contest held in Nashville, Tenn.
On June 12, 1990, the defendant finished his work shift at approximately 4:30 p.m. After work, he obtained a ride to the Village Inn Tavern. At the tavern the defendant made several phone calls attempting to locate someone to give him a ride to his car. The defendant also ordered a can of beer and drank / approximately one-third of the beer.
While at the tavern, the defendant complained of not feeling well, dizziness, and double vision. The tavern owner then agreed to take the defendant to get his car. As he was leaving the bar, the defendant took an unopened can of beer with him.
The defendant and his wife had recently separated / and were arguing about which of them would retain possession of their automobile. It appears from the record that the defendant parked the car in the parking lot across the river so that his wife would not be able to locate the automobile and take possession of it.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. the defendant was traveling north / on Route 2. Robert Barker was driving south on Route 2 with his wife, Karen Barker. It appears the defendant’s car gradually crossed the centerline and traveled in a straight line for approximately 200 yards in the southbound lane before it collided head-on with the Barker automobile. As a result of the accident, the defendant and //(1) Mr. Barker suffered severe injuries. Mrs. Barker also sustained serious injuries and died three days later as a result of those injuries.
Eyewitnesses reported the defendant crossed the centerline in a consistent, even fashion without attempting to swerve, brake, change directions, or stop. Witnesses also indicated that both the defendant and Mr. Barker were traveling at the posted / speed limit. A bystander stated the defendant was semi-conscious immediately after the accident, and his breath smelled of alcohol.
An investigation of the defendant’s vehicle immediately after the accident revealed one open can of beer, which was one-half full, in the driver’s door compartment; several empty beer cans on the passenger’s floor; four full beer cans on / the rear floor; three empty beer cans on the driver’s floor; and an empty glass, which smelled of beer, on the ground near the car. The defendant was transported to Three Rivers Hospital where testing revealed he had a blood alcohol level of less than one hundredth of one percent.
While treating the defendant’s injuries, he was given // an MRI scan to determine whether he had sustained any head injuries. The MRI results indicated the defendant had an undiagnosed brain disorder in the portion of his brain that regulates consciousness.
The defendant stood trial for involuntary manslaughter. During the trial the defendant’s son testified that the defendant had been having memory //(2) loss for several months prior to the accident and that he believed the defendant had seen a doctor about that condition.
Similarly, the tavern owner stated the defendant had complained of feeling ill during the months preceding the collision, and he had complained of dizziness, memory loss, and double vision on the night of the accident. She also / believed the defendant recently had been treated by a physician.
Defense witness Dr. Ronald Washington reported the defendant’s MRI scan showed an undiagnosed brain disorder affecting the reticular activating system of his brain. Dr. Washington reasoned that because this portion of the brain affects one’s consciousness, this disorder could have caused the defendant to suddenly // lose consciousness immediately before the accident. He also indicated the defendant had developed this brain abnormality approximately four to eight months prior to the accident, and the disease was not caused by chronic alcohol abuse.
Dr. Washington determined the defendant’s brain disorder would not have been diagnosed if he had not had an MRI scan after / the accident. Finally, both the defendant and Mr. Barker testified that they could not recall any details of the automobile accident.
The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment; his motion to suppress all evidence obtained immediately after the accident showing the presence of alcoholic beverage containers in or around the defendant’s car and //(3) statements indicating the defendant and his car smelled of alcohol; and his motions for a directed verdict of acquittal.
The trial court further denied the defendant’s proposed jury instruction regarding the insanity defense, to which defense counsel objected. Determining that the defendant’s blood alcohol level did not establish that he was under the influence of alcohol, the trial / court instructed the jury to find the defendant was not intoxicated at the time of the accident. Likewise, the trial court directed the jury to find that the defendant suffered from a brain disorder affecting the consciousness-regulating portion of his brain.
The defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing the State had not proven that he committed / any illegal act, other than driving left of center, because his blood alcohol level did not indicate he was under the influence of alcohol.
The Court further instructed the jury: One who suffers from an as yet undiagnosed disease or defect cannot be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for a death resulting from his operation of an automobile unless / the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that:
1. The driver knew or should reasonably have known of the existence of his physical or mental condition, disease, or defect; and,
2. The driver should reasonably have foreseen that his condition, disease, or defect would impair his ability to drive an automobile to such a degree so as //(4) to endanger human life; and,
3. His decision to drive an automobile at the date and time and in the place set forth in the indictment was negligence so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard of human life; and,
4. Indicated a conscious indifference to the probable dangerous consequences of driving so impaired.
If / the evidence fails to prove any of these matters beyond a reasonable doubt, then you shall find the defendant not guilty of involuntary manslaughter as charged in the indictment.
If the evidence proves each of these matters beyond a reasonable doubt, then you may find the defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter as charged in the indictment.”
Disposition / of this appeal begins and ends with an inquiry into whether the jury instructions were inadequate. Thus, the appeal in this case has been limited to one issue, whether the jury was instructed properly as to the defense of unconsciousness. The defendant claims the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to give his insanity instruction.
On / the other hand, the State contends the instruction offered by the defendant was imperfect, and the evidence did not support an insanity instruction. Moreover, the State urges the instructions offered were more than adequate to cover the defense of unconsciousness. This case requires us to harmonize a conflict between the defense of unconsciousness and that of insanity. //(5)
Notes for the contestants who placed first, second, and third are available in pdf format.