EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Drug Of Choice: New Jersey Judge Finds Ecstacy Evidence Admissible In Vehicular Homicide Case

Back in September, Damian D'Aleo caught a big break in his upcoming trial on counts of vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and three counts of aggravated manslaughter based upon a car crash that killed three motorists on Route 80 in New Jersey. Last week, he wasn't as lucky.

On September 26, 2006, D'Aleo allegedly set off the crash by rear-ending a Jeep Cherokee while both cars were going 70 mph.  According to authorities, the Jeep hurtled across the median into the eastbound lanes, striking a Chrysler PT Cruiser and then a Chevrolet Cavalier.  And if convicted, D'Aleo could become very familiar with the four walls of a prison cell as each aggravated manslaughter count carries a maximum punishment of 30 years incarceration.

At first, it appeared that the state would have an open and shut case against D'Aleo.  He apparently admitted to police officers after the accident that he had ingested beer and taken Ecstasy and cocaine, and Superior Court Judge Salem Ahto found that these statements would be admissible against D'Aleo at trial.  And the forensic evidence seemed to corroborate these confessions as D'Aleo's blood alcohol level was apparently .09 percent, above the legal limit of .08 percent, and cocaine metabolites and traces of Ecstacy were found in his system

Subsequently, however, a question arose as to when, not if, D'Aleo took the drugs.  D'Aleo claimed that he took the cocaine the night before the crash, and the state's toxicology expert John Brick testified that any cocaine D'Aleo took the night before would not have had any bearing on the crash.  Based upon this testimony, Judge Ahto barred at  upcoming all references to cocaine and the interplay between cocaine and alcohol at D'Aleo's impeding trial.

D'Aleo made a similar argument with respect to the Ecstacy, but if he was hoping for similarly favorable testimony from Brick, that hope was a train in vain.  Brick indicated last week that he believed that it was more likely than not that D'Aleo took the Ecstacy the day of the crash and that the drug intensified the alcohol's effect.  Accordingly, Ahto ruled that Brick can opine that the ecstasy exacerbated the effects of alcohol, adding to D'Aleo's impairment, at D'Aleo's impending trial.  Based upon this ruling, when analyzing D'Aleo's likelihood of prevailing at trial, my conclusion would be that slim just left town



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