The New York State Senate has once again passed Alix’s Law. The upper chamber voted unanimously in favor of the law, which makes leaving the scene of any accident illegal for drunk drivers, but approval by the Assembly is far from certain. This marks the fourth time that the bill has been passed by the Senate, but the measure has yet to reach the governor’s desk.
The bill is named after Alix Rice, who was struck and killed in a 2011 drunk driving accident in the Town of Amherst. The 18-year-old was riding home on her skateboard when she was struck by motorist who was under the influence of alcohol at the time. The man left the scene of the accident, and he later told police that he was not aware that he had hit anybody. Prosecutors were unable to prove otherwise, and the man was subsequently acquitted of a felony leaving the scene charge.
Current legislation requires drunk drivers to report accidents only if they believe that individuals were injured or property was damaged. The proposed measure would add a presumption that intoxicated motorists knew or had reason to know that an accident had caused injury or damage, and it also requires them to remain at the scene. The law failed to secure the approval of the Assembly in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
While the tragic death of a teenager may lead to understandable public outrage, laws that contradict fundamental legal doctrines could set a dangerous precedent. The presumption of innocence is a vital protection against overzealous or malicious prosecution, and criminal defense attorneys would likely oppose any measure that would erode the rights of the accused. Prosecutors may find it challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what an accused individual was thinking, but that does not mean a law should be passed to relieve them of this burden.
Source: The Daily News, “Senate passes Alix’s Law for fourth time,” Staff, March 26, 2015