Due to double jeopardy rule, Jersey City man will get conviction amended in double-fatal crash

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Due to double jeopardy protections, also known as the rule of multiplicity, a Jersey City man will get his conviction amended for fleeing the scene of a 2017 double-fatal crash – which let to a 10-year prison sentence.

Rashaun Bell. Photo courtesy of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

” … We reverse one of defendant’s convictions because the State violated the rule against multiplicity,” Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division Judges Michael J. Haas and Jessica R. Mayer ruled in today’s opinion

“Where a defendant leaves the scene of a single accident that resulted in the death of another person, the State may not properly charge him or her with multiple counts of this offense based on the number of victims who died in the accident.”

On the afternoon of October 18th, 2017, Rashaun Bell was driving on the Secaucus off-ramp on Routes 1 and 9 in Secaucus when he struck two boys riding a single bicycle where the road intersected with Leonard Street, the court opinion says.

One of the victims died instantly, while the other died in the hospital the following day.

While counsel for Bell filed a motion to dismiss one of the counts for leaving the scene of a fatal accident, citing the doctrine of multiplicity, that motion was denied.

“In a brief oral decision, the judge reasoned that as a result of the accident, there were two victims and, therefore, it was appropriate to charge defendant with two counts of violating
N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.1,” the appellate court explained.

“The judge also stated that the statute permitted a sentencing court to ‘impose[] multiple sentences of imprisonment for more than one offense’ and to run those sentences ‘consecutively.'”

However, Haas and Mayer ruled that this legal interpretation was incorrect, noting that the state should have charged Bell with aggravated manslaughter, reckless vehicular homicide, or strict liability vehicular homicide, instead of two counts of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

” … Based upon the plain language of the statute, he could only be charged with a single violation of this enactment,” the two judges wrote.

” … We amend the remaining count of second-degree leaving the scene of an accident to include both boys who died  as a result of that accident, and affirm that conviction and the five-year sentence previously imposed on that count. We remand to the trial court for the limited purpose of issuing an amended judgment of conviction consistent with this opinion.”

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