People v. Shakirov, 2017 IL App (4th) 140578 (April). Episode 348 (Duration 18:46)
Reckless homicide reversed outright when the state failed to establish any recklessness at all.
Defendant was driving a semi-tractor trailer southbound on Interstate 39 (I-39) near Hudson, Illinois (which is just north of Peoria), when he collided with several emergency vehicles that were responding to an earlier accident.
The collision resulted in the death of volunteer firefighter.
2 Months later he was charged of reckless homicide. The United States Marshall Service subsequently arrested defendant in Spokane, Washington. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 4 years in prison.
In Illinois a person commits reckless homicide when
(1) while driving a motor vehicle,
(2) the person “unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification *** if his acts whether lawful or unlawful *** are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm,” and
(3) those acts were performed recklessly.
As applied to the offense of reckless homicide,
“A person is reckless or acts recklessly when that person consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that [his acts are likely to cause death or great bodily harm], and that disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”
Every crime charged in Illinois must have a requisite mental state or mens rea.
The indictment read as follows:
“[T]hat defendant, while acting in a reckless manner, performed acts likely to cause the death of or great bodily harm to some individual in that he operated a motor vehicle, a white 2003 Freightliner [semi-tractor trailer], in a southern direction on the inside (left passing lane) of I-39, *** at a speed which was greater than was reasonable and proper with regard to the existing traffic conditions and the safety of persons properly upon the roadway, failed to proceed with the necessary due caution and yield the right-of-way by slowing down and change into the right lane, while reducing speed of the vehicle and maintaining a safe speed for the conditions, upon approaching authorized emergency vehicles displaying the appropriate warning lights, in that the defendant caused his vehicle to strike ***[the volunteer firefighter], thereby causing his death.”
The gist of the allegation is that he was driving too fast for the snowy/icy conditions and he should have moved over to the right ride.
Accident Before The Accident
The accident that preceded this collision involved a semi that had jackknifed and flipped on it’s side after a pick-up truck had crossed the median and interfered with southbound traffic.
It was snowy and icy.
Emergency vehicles were travelling between 35 and 40 mph.
The evidence presented by the State showed that mere minutes after the commanding officer halted the traffic control duties being performed by the firefighters traveling in SUV 105, defendant approached mile marker 6 at a speed of 37 mph.
Defendant attempted to brake but could not stop.
An expert testified at the moment of impact, defendant’s semi was traveling at a minimum speed of at least 37.36 miles per hour.
At sentencing the defendant said: “I deeply regret what happened, your honor, but at the time of the accident I had been a truck driver for over a month and I was driving south on [I-]39 and the roads seemed to be clear up north. And while I saw the emergency lights, I assumed that they’re on the right side and moved over from the right lane to the left lane and [began] slowing down. When I realized that emergency vehicle on the left lane, I tried to stop my vehicle and I couldn’t and lost control and [the] accident happened. *** [M]y heart goes out for *** Brown’s family and everybody who got hurt in that accident.”
Negligence Is Not Recklessness
In reversing this conviction the court said that the State’s case was utterly bereft of any evidence showing a conscious disregard of anything.
Recklessness may be inferred from all the facts and circumstances in the record and may be established by evidence of the physical condition of the driver and his manner of operating the vehicle.
Proof of negligence alone, however, cannot sustain a finding of recklessness.
While an accident may result from negligence, mere negligence is not recklessness. Where an occurrence may be equally attributed to either a negligent cause or a criminal cause, the burden of reasonable doubt cannot be sustained and the negligent cause will be adopted.
The State had to prove that defendant consciously disregarded the danger posed by the less-than-ideal road conditions and, in so doing, engaged in conduct that represented a gross deviation from established norms society expects reasonable persons to undertake given those circumstances.
What About His Reckless Speed?
Defendant’s speed was consistent with—and generally less than—the speeds the safety workers of the safety workers that night.
Regardless of the actual speed defendant may have been traveling that night, “evidence of excessive speed, by itself, is not sufficient to sustain a conviction of reckless homicide.”
Instead, the “evidence of excessive speed, combined with other circumstances that would indicate a conscious disregard of a substantial risk likely to cause death or great bodily harm to others such that a reasonable person would act differently under the same circumstances, is sufficient to establish reckless homicide.”
In this regard, the State posits that:
- defendant’s speed
- “combined with the precarious weather conditions” and
- defendant’s failure to decrease his speed or move into the right southbound lane,
was clearly reckless.
“When, at the close of the State’s evidence or at the close of all of the evidence, the evidence is insufficient to support a finding or verdict of guilty[,] the court may and on motion of the defendant[,] shall make a finding or direct the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, enter a judgment of acquittal[,] and discharge the defendant.”
A directed verdict or a judgment n.o.v. is appropriate when a trial court concludes, after viewing all of the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, that no reasonable juror could find that the State had met its burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Simply stated, in this case the trial court erred by denying the motion for a directed verdict and, later, the motion for a judgment n.o.v..
The state admitted evidence that defendant may have violated the 14 hour rule. However, the record showed that immediately following the technical violation, defendant spent the next 10½ hours in the sleeper berth of his semi in satisfaction of the underlying spirit and intent of the Federal Regulation, which is to ensure drivers are well rested before embarking on a new 14-hour day of activity.
The State claimed that the evidence regarding defendant’s violation of the 14-hour rule the day before, was relevant to the issue of defendant’s alleged recklessness the night of the collision.
The contention that a technical violation of the 14-hour rule the previous night is probative on the issue of recklessness the next night because that violation suggests defendant may have been inattentive as he approached the accident site due to fatigue is not only wildly speculative but also highly prejudicial.
This record contains not a shred of evidence that defendant was fatigued at the time of the accident.
The reviewing court found the State’s case wholly unpersuasive.
The best that can be said of the State’s case is that defendant may have been inattentive for a few seconds (perhaps adjusting his radio or engaging in some similar activity) and then failed to realize the left lane was blocked as he unsuccessfully attempted to brake his huge semi at night on an icy highway in blowing snow.
Such brief inattention (if it even occurred) falls far short of the conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that establishes a gross deviation from the standard of care that the State needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
This evidence does not come close to meeting that standard.