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The applicable standard of care in negligent homicide cases is that of a reasonable person. For negligent homicide the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence is defined as want of reasonable care; that is, failing to do what an ordinarily sensible person would have done under the conditions and circumstances then existing.
Defendant David Traughber was involved in an automobile accident that occurred at a dark, unlighted two-lane road with a 45mph speed limit. As the two cars approached each other, each in its respective lane, defendant suddenly saw a large metal sign, later identified as a real estate sign, lying flat on the road. The defendant, now approximately thirty feet from the oncoming car, was faced with a split-second decision in an attempt to avoid the sign. Judging that he had enough space between himself and the other automobile, he swerved to the left, into the northbound lane, to go around the sign. Upon seeing defendant's car enter his lane and assuming it would either continue in the left lane or go completely off the road, the other vehicle swerved his car into defendant's lane, the southbound lane. Simultaneously, as the latter was turning into the southbound lane, the defendant, now around the sign, was returning into his own lane. The two cars then collided head-on just inside defendant's lane. One of the passengers of the other vehicle died and the other received minor injuries. Defendant was then charged with negligent homicide and operating a motor vehicle without a valid license. After waiving his right to a jury trial, defendant was acquitted of operating a motor vehicle without a valid license, but was convicted of negligent homicide. The court of appeals affirmed in an unpublished opinion per curiam. On appeal, defendant argued that the information for negligent homicide was insufficient to allow him to adequately present a defense because it failed to specify the acts of negligence for which he was charged. Defendant sought review.
Was the defendant’s conviction of negligent homicide proper?
The court reversed defendant's conviction for negligent homicide. The court held that the information, coupled with the lower court's preliminary examination, did offer defendant adequate notice of the acts of negligence. However, the court found that the lower court failed to apply the reasonable person standard to the emergency that confronted defendant at the time of the accident. Therefore, the court reversed defendant's conviction for negligent homicide, as the court ruled that the lower court erred in concluding that defendant created an emergency when he swerved his car to avoid an obstacle in the road. The court concluded that the unexpected event prompted defendant to instinctively swerve his car into the other lane of traffic and that such conduct was not contrary to that of an ordinary prudent person under similar circumstances.