Saugus Teen Charged with 10 Counts in Drunk Driving Case: 4 Won’t Stick

March 31, 2010

As a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, whenever I come across a news article dealing with a criminal investigation, I naturally start to analyze the legal significance of the case. I recently read about the Saugus case in which a 5-foot-1-inch, 96 pound 18 year old girl was charged with four counts of leaving the scene of personal injury, reckless operation of a motor vehicle, operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and serious injury, three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. This is a tragic case because alcohol has once again harmed the lives of several youths; the four who were rushed to the hospital, and of course the young girl who now faces possible jail time. While most readers would read this article with outrage, my natural instinct to read through the eyes of a lawyer leads to my strong belief that many of those charges will not stick.

I do not know the details of the case. I have not read the police report. But from the nature of all the charges, it appears that this young girl was mischarged, and a complaint should not issue on at least 4 of the 10 counts listed in this article.

Based on the content in this article alone, it appears that officers believe Ms. Morgan was operating her car under the influence of alcohol, drove without due care, struck four civilians causing injury, and then drove away. The charge of “reckless operation of a motor vehicle” coincides with this theory of the case. People are guilty of operating recklessly if they consciously disregard the risk their driving posed to others, or if they should have known that their driving posed the risk of serious bodily injury. An accident alone does not mean that a person drove recklessly- a jury must take into account all factors, such as time of day, weather conditions, the driver’s physical condition, the condition of the vehicle, the manner of operation, and dozens of other potential factors before determining that the person is guilty. But notwithstanding Ms. Morgan’s guilt or innocence on the reckless operation charge, the theory seems to be that she simply disregarded the risk that her driving might pose to the four girls who who injured.

If the theory is recklessness, then all three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (ABDW) and the single count of aggravated assault and battery with a dangerous weapon should be dropped. Ms. Morgan faces up to ten years in prison for each of those four counts, so this is a very important issue for her defense attorney to handle as soon as possible.

In order for Ms. Morgan to be found guilty of those four counts, the prosecution must show that she intended to cause harm to the four girls, or that she at least was trying to drive her car at them, maybe just to scare them, even if she did not intend to strike them. In order to prove intent, the prosecution would have to show a motive to cause such harm. Without a motive, there would have to be some other evidence, such as an incriminating statement by Ms. Morgan, to suggest that she did try to drive her car at the girls. Without any such evidence, there is nothing to suggest this was an intentional act of violence, and the four counts of ABDW should be dismissed immediately. The case can only proceed on the theory that Ms. Morgan operated under the influence, operated her car recklessly, struck four girls who were injured, and then drove away without stopping to help the girls or check on the property damage. Even then, in order for her to be convicted of those remaining 6 counts, the prosecution must prove her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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