The New Hampshire Supreme Court will decide whether talking on a cellphone while driving can justify a conviction for criminally negligent homicide, despite the fact that cellphone use while driving is legal in NH.
Lynn Dion, of Franklin, NH was convicted of criminally negligent homicide, in the death of 36 year old Genny Bassett, on June 28, 2009. Dion’s cellphone records showed half a dozen calls during her 37 minute drive, the last one as she approached the bridge where Bassett and a friend were walking.
Dion said she never saw the women in the freshly painted crosswalk. Dion braked when she heard a loud pop and glass showered into her car. Her vehicle had hit Bassett’s right leg and Bassett’s head hit the passenger side of the windshield, fracturing her skull and causing a fatal head injury. Gonnella was knocked to the ground and temporarily lost consciousness.
Merrimack Country prosecutor George Waldron told jurors there was no other plausible reason but cellphone distraction for Dion to have hit them.
Dion’s lawyer claims on appeal that because talking on a cellphone while driving is not illegal in New Hampshire, such conduct is not enough to convict someone of criminally negligent homicide.
‘‘There was no law in 2009, nor is there any law in New Hampshire today, that prohibits or restricts drivers from operating a personal vehicle while talking on the phone,’’ attorney Allison Ambrose wrote in her brief.
The state argues on appeal that conduct doesn’t necessarily have to be illegal to be considered blameworthy. Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan McGinnis cites in her brief a 1992 ruling in which the court upheld the conviction of a man who crossed into the breakdown lane and killed a woman.
The case marks the first time the court will address cellphone use in the context of a criminally negligent homicide conviction. The justices will hear arguments Oct. 17 at Monadnock Regional High School as part of an effort to expose a broader audience to the court’s role.
Read the entire story by Lynne Tuohy of the Associated Press.
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