Criminal Law, Pages 341–345

People v. Traughber

Supreme Court of Michigan, 1989

Facts:

Defendant was driving down the road shortly after midnight at 35 mph in a 45 mph zone. As another car was approaching in oncoming traffic, he saw a large metal real estate sign on the road in front of him. The ditch on the right was narrow and full of trees, so defendant swerved into the oncoming lane to get avoid the sign, believing that he could get back into his lane before hitting the other car. However, the other car, upon seeing defendant swerve into its lane, swerved into defendant's lane. Defendant did return to his lane in time, but as the other car was in his lane, they collided head-on, killing the passenger in the other car.

Procedural History:

  • Trial court convicted defendant of negligent homicide.

  • Court of appeals reversed.

Issue:

Was defendant ordinarily negligent?

Rules:

  • LexisNexis IconWestLaw LogoGoogle Scholar LogoPage 342

    "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. . . ."

  • In emergency situations, one is not held accountable for his judgment unless he is the one that created the emergency.

Reasoning:

In Michigan, one only needs ordinary negligence for negligent homicide, so the right standard was applied. Defendant may have violated this standard of care, but the court will not judge the actions of one in an emergency situation retroactively. However, error was made when the court found that defendant created the emergency. He was not responsible for the sign being in the road, he had no reason to know that anything would be in his lane, and he reacted as soon as his headlights revealed it. Thus, he did not create the emergency; he merely reacted to it.

Holding:

It cannot be said that defendant's conduct was ordinarily negligent in the emergency situation he was in. Reversed.

Note:

Usually gross negligence is required for negligent homicide, but several states, like Michigan only require ordinary negligence.

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