The top rated Michigan Drunk Driving Lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have handled dozens of OWI cases involving auto accidents where a death has occurred. In many of these cases the question of causation is an important one. The reason is without causation there can be no “causing death.” However, the issue of causation is not at all straightforward.
To establish causation in an OWI causing death case, the prosecutor must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, both factual and proximate causation. See, e.g., People v. Schaefer, 473 Mich. 418, 703 N.W.2d 774, (2005). Even though drunk driving causing death is a criminal matter, both factual and proximate causation are civil concepts and come from negligence law. This is why civil cases can be consulted to better understand these concepts.
What is Factual Causation?
In some ways factual causation is the easier to understand than proximate causation. Factual causation is established through the application of the “but-for” test. Factual causation is proved if (and only if) the death would not have occurred but-for the defendant’s operation of the vehicle. See, e.g., Lessard v. City of Allen Park, 247 F. Supp. 2d 843 (E.D. Mich. 2003).
In a drunk driving causing death case, factual causation is generally proven simply by the operation of the motor vehicle. Notice that it is not the drunken driving of the vehicle that must be the factual cause but simply the operation of the vehicle itself. Consequently, factual causation is usually not a heavily contested issue an OWI causing death case because operation is rarely an issue in such a case.
However, factual causation does require more than a possibility of causation. While the prosecutor in an OWI causing death case need not negate all other possible causes, the prosecutor must non-the-less exclude other reasonable hypotheses with a fair amount of certainty. See, e.g., Campbell v. Kovich, 273 Mich. App. 227, 731 N.W.2d 112 (2006).
It is hard to imagine that there could be more than one factual cause in an OWI causing death case, if there is more than one possible factual cause, and it’s reasonably possible that this other factual cause is responsible for the death, then the prosecutor must exclude that possibility before a jury can convict.
What Happens if Prosecutor Can’t Prove Factual Causation?
Because the prosecutor has the burden of proving all elements of the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt, a failure to prove factual causation will result in a dismissal of the case. This dismissal could happen as early as the preliminary exam. If the case is not dismissed after the preliminary exam, then the next option would be after a motion to dismiss filed at the circuit court. Finally, if the case is not dismissed before a trial, then the next possibility would be that the jury returns an acquittal, or not guilty verdict at trial.
Drunk driving causing death cases are very complicated and require a high level of expertise. At the Barone Defense Firm we have successfully litigated these cases for more than 30 years. If you have been charged with OWI causing death, contact one of the top rated Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm for your free no obligation case review.