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Delaware Supreme Court Overturns Homicide Conviction on Appeal


In a rare move, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a female teen who was accused of Criminally Negligent Homicide in the April 2016 beating death of a fellow Wilmington high school classmate. A March 2, 2018 article in Delaware Online outlined the details of the attack, where the defendant dragged the victim into a bathroom stall and punched her. Though the blows were relatively minor, the victim died of sudden cardiac death due to a combination of heart and lung defects. To support their ruling, the justices found that the defendant could not have foreseen that her actions would contribute to cardiac arrest and death. The story demonstrates the importance of hiring a knowledgeable Delaware criminal appeal lawyer for assistance with a conviction, especially on charges of Criminally Negligent Homicide.

Delaware Law on Homicide Offenses 

There are six classifications of homicide under Delaware’s Criminal Code, and the distinctions among them focus upon the offender’s state of mind. The most serious form, Murder in the First Degree, requires a prosecutor to prove that the accused acted intentionally to cause the death of another person; the same charges would apply where the actor recklessly causes an individual’s death while committing a felony. The least serious type of murder is Vehicular Homicide, where a person causes death by operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Criminally Negligent Homicide 

This form of murder occurs when a person causes the death of an individual by acting with criminal negligence. The Delaware Criminal Code defines this state of mind as failing to perceive a risk that some factor is present or that a certain outcome will result from the actor’s conduct. The statute goes on to state that this risk must be of such a nature that a person’s failure to recognize it amounts to gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would appreciate based upon the circumstances.

In the case involving the Wilmington teen, the justices noted that she could not have foreseen that her blows would cause the victim to die of cardiac arrest. The defendant did not know of the pre-existing medical condition, and the punches inflicted minor bodily injuries. The Supreme Court’s opinion concluded that no reasonable person could have known that the risk of death was so great that the defendant was grossly deviant in failing to appreciate it.

Criminal Penalties for Criminally Negligent Homicide 

This classification of murder is a class D felony, so a court could issue a prison sentence up to eight years for a conviction. However, because the defendant is a minor, she would be treated as a juvenile for purposes of sentencing.

Schedule a Consultation with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

The recent opinion of the Delaware Supreme Court shows that very specific evidence is necessary to prove a case for Criminally Negligent Homicide. It also demonstrates the importance of retaining a skilled criminal appeals attorney to represent your interests, as there are many options to fight for your rights even after a guilty finding. Please contact Attorney Michael W. Modica in Wilmington, DE for more information or to set up a free consultation.



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