Air bag "black box" recorder admissible in leaving the scene of an accident involving death trial.

Most vehicles now have air bags in them for safety reasons in case of an accident.  However, these air bag control systems are often referred to as the “black box” or “event data recorder” in motor vehicles.  After an accident, this device generates a report about the accident.  In a vehicular homicide trial, the prosecutor introduced the Defendant’s car’s “black box” report into evidence to help prove that the Defendant’s caused the accident because the brakes were never applied in the accident.  Under Florida Statute 782.071 the prosecutor must prove the driver caused the accident by the operation of a motor vehicle by in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another

The Defendant objected to the admission of the air bag report arguing that the report was hearsay and should not be admissible at trial.  The judge overruled the defense’s objection, admitted the report, and the Defendant was convicted at trial of  leaving the scene of a crash involving death, vehicular homicide, and driving while license is suspended or revoked.  Based upon this evidentiary ruling, this air bag report could also be used in a DUI manslaughter case.

After the conviction, the Defendant appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal which rules on cases in Polk and Hillsborough County.  The appellate court agreed with the trial court and held that the “black box” report was not hearsay and was admissible at trial.  This means that the “Confrontation Clause” which gives the Defendant the right to confront his or her accuser and the witnesses against him did not apply.  That is because the court rules that the “black box” report is not testimonial hearsay.  What does all that legal mumbo jumbo mean?  That the the air bag control system report is not accusatory and does not describe any specific wrongdoing of a driver.  The report merely establishes the existence or absence of some objective fact, i.e., if and when the brakes were applied in the driver’s car before the accident and the speed the car was traveling.  If this had been a lab report done by a crime analyst or lab technician stating the results of a driver’s blood alcohol level or what type of drug was seized by the police, the person who conducted the lab report would testify.

What does mean to you?  If you have been arrested for a driving offense or a drug offense, the nature and type of the report may require a witness to testify.  You also need to know that information before you go to trial or make the decision to go to trial.   Retaining a criminal defense lawyer that stays up-to-date withe the latest case law is extremely important to get the best outcome for your criminal case.  Knowledge allows you to make the best and most informed decisions possible.

If you have been arrested for a serious felony, DUI with Serious Bodily Injury (SBI), DUI Manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident with death, or a drug or controlled substance offense, retain an attorney that knows the most recent case law and how the rules of evidence will benefit or hurt your case.




Handling all criminal and juvenile cases in Polk County, Florida including Bartow, Lakeland, Winter Haven, Auburndale, HainesCity, and Davenport.


See Peterson v. State, __ So. 3d __, 39 F.L.W. D75 (2d DCA 1/3/2014)



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