LAS VEGAS — The Nevada Supreme Court ordered a change in the handling of DUI cases involving fatal crashes by prohibiting prosecutors from charging defendants with second-degree murder.
The decision issued Monday stemmed from a case in which authorities said a man caused a fatal crash after driving with marijuana in his system and speeding, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
Chief Justice Kristina Pickering wrote the order signed by the other six justices concluding the state cannot level a second-degree murder charge for a death resulting from DUI.
“Although malice may be inferred from the facts of this case, which would support a charge of second-degree murder, the Legislature has pre-empted such a charge for cases of non-intentional vehicular homicide,” Pickering wrote.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the decision would result in prosecutors dismissing second-degree murder charges in at least five cases.
However, Wolfson said “none of those cases would be outright dismissed.”
A possible response to the order would be to convince the Legislature there should be harsher penalties in felony DUI death cases “where people travel at excessive rates of speed and otherwise exhibit an extraordinarily reckless behavior,” Wolfson said.
The high court’s order essentially reversed a previous decision in the case against Ronald Leavell. Authorities said Leavell was traveling between 70 and 142 mph through a Las Vegas residential neighborhood.
Leavell’s attorneys, Deborah and David Westbrook, who appealed his second-degree murder charge in the 2017 crash, lauded the decision.
“Intent matters, which is why we have different laws for different things,” David Westbrook said.
A second-degree murder charge “doesn’t discourage anybody from committing a reckless act. Because it’s a reckless act. You can’t convince people not to do something they didn’t intend to do,” David Westbrook said.