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COA: Just running red light not reckless

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Ruling on the issue for the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that not stopping at an intersection cannot, without more evidence, constitute criminally reckless conduct and establish a prima facie case.

Sampson Boadi was charged with Class C felony reckless homicide, criminal recklessness resulting in serious bodily injury as a Class D felony, and criminal recklessness with a motor vehicle as a Class A felony after he ran a red light while driving his tractor trailer, and another motorist was killed while making a turn in the intersection. The trial court granted Boadi's motion for a directed verdict on the basis that the evidence showed he only ran a red light and the facts proven don't constitute a major element of recklessness in each of the crimes.

Although the issue in the case is now moot because of the acquittal, the appellate court addressed the issue in State of Indiana v. Sampson Boadi, No. 64A05-0807-CR-420, in hopes of providing guidance for future cases. The judges had to determine as a matter of law whether Boadi's failure to stop in time at the intersection was evidence of recklessness sufficient to withstand a motion for directed verdict.

The Court of Appeals couldn't find a criminal case addressing this issue but did find guidance in a civil action under the Automobile Guest Act, Becker v. Strater, 117 Ind. App. 504, 72 N.E.2d 580, 581 (1947). In Becker, a driver failed to stop at a stop sign and hit another car. The driver slowed down as he approached the intersection but had been looking at cattle on the side of the road and didn't see the other car. The Becker court ruled his conduct could be negligence, but not willful or wanton misconduct.

"This Court has previously found that a rule announced in actions under the Automobile Guest Act should apply in criminal cases as well because of the similarity in definition between 'recklessness' in the criminal context and 'wanton or willful misconduct' in the civil context," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. The appellate court concluded pursuant to Becker, failing to stop at an intersection cannot, without more, constitute criminally reckless conduct.

There's no evidence of additional circumstances sufficient to satisfy the recklessness element of the charges against Boadi. He didn't accelerate toward the light; he drove toward it at below the posted speed limit; he wasn't driving erratically or under the influence of drugs or alcohol; and he wasn't fatigued or violating trucking regulations, the judge wrote.

"In sum, the evidence as a whole viewed in the light most favorable to the State shows that Boadi did not stop but instead proceeded through the intersection as the light turned green for the opposing traffic," she wrote. "Although this conduct might be evidence of inadvertence or an error in judgment, that is, negligence, such an error does not constitute criminal recklessness."

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