Writing the book on DWI accidents Prosecutor's manual offers tips for police preparing for trial


Often, within minutes after police respond to a fatal or serious-injury traffic accident in Carroll County, prosecutor David Daggett is called to the scene.

Day or night, the man who has written the book on prosecuting drunken drivers answers the call to begin what may be months of intensive preparation for trial.

His 112-page manual -- "Automobile Manslaughter & DWI Homicide: A Guide by David P. Daggett" -- has become a handy reference for police and prosecutors statewide.

"That's his forte, no question," said Tfc. John Rose, who has called Daggett in the middle of the night more than a few times.

Rose, a resident trooper assigned to the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police, knows first-hand the carnage that can result from the senseless act of one drunken or drugged driver.

State Highway Administration statistics for 1995, 1996 and 1997 show that 34 percent of 1,907 fatalities were alcohol- or drug-related.

Daggett, 44, is low-key about the recognition his guide has brought, saying he fell into prosecuting drunken driving collisions "by default," while working for the state's attorney in Frederick County in 1990.

"One of my first assignments involved a 10-year-old boy who was killed," he said.

That experience -- learning how complicated the legal issues and mathematical calculations were in proving gross negligence, an essential element for a manslaughter conviction -- prompted Daggett to begin making notes and keeping checklists.

He began compiling his guide in 1994 and published it after he joined the state's attorney's staff in Carroll County in January 1995.

Guide used statewide

Copies were mailed to 23 jurisdictions in the state, and requests for additional copies began rolling in. Baltimore City prosecutors wanted 15 copies.

"It's a comprehensive and authoritative manual recognized throughout the state, and we're very proud of David," said Jerry F. Barnes, state's attorney for Carroll County.

Bill Ressler, a deputy state's attorney in Anne Arundel County, said he liked the guide so much he ordered 10 copies for co-workers.

Ressler said he found the guide most valuable for those who had never prosecuted automobile manslaughter cases because of its time-saving list of applicable cases that help law enforcement officials understand Maryland's standard of gross negligence.

Howard B. Merker, deputy state's attorney for Baltimore County, calls Daggett's guide "a good basic tool" and "a valuable nuts-and-bolts guide for those who use it."

Case law, tips explained

Daggett's guide methodically discusses what needs to be done to prepare for trial and why. It covers such basics as visiting the scene, ordering blood-alcohol tests and determining charges.

The guide also covers more technical topics, such as trial tactics, collision reconstruction and case law.

Prosecutors from Howard and Prince George's counties have provided input, which Daggett said he will use in updating the guide.

For one thing, penalties for hit-and-run offenses have been stiffened, a matter that Daggett suggested should be covered in his guide.

Formerly, a driver who was legally intoxicated and speeding, and who struck a pedestrian, could get as much as five years in prison on a conviction of homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated, even if he had stopped and tried to render aid.

But if, in a similar scenario, the driver fled the scene, intoxication could not be presumed and the driver could be sentenced to no more than a year in prison.

With the recent passage of House Bill 659, Daggett said, failing to remain at the scene of a serious-injury accident can draw a maximum penalty of five years and a $5,000 fine.

L Daggett wants to complete his revision of the guide by fall.

Rose, who is qualified as an expert witness in accident investigation in Carroll County courts, said Daggett's guide should be a "must-read" for troopers attending the state police academy.

"Everything you need to know and document for a successful prosecution is there," he said. "I like it because his manual doesn't just tell you what to do, but explains why."

Daggett teaches the legal aspects of prosecuting automobile manslaughter and homicide by motor vehicle while intoxicated at the state police academy.

He also serves on a state judicial education committee sponsored by the Judicial Institute of Maryland. The committee includes judges and SHA officials. The group visited Reno, Nev., this year for a seminar on presenting the legal issues of drunken-driving cases to judges and prosecutors, he said.

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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