A teenager's hospital confession to texting while driving, which was thought to be the cause of a deadly crash that killed her two teenaged passengers in 2012. The teen pled not guilty to two counts of manslaughter in December of last year while her attorney busily prepared for a hearing to suppress the evidence of an illegally obtained confession.
The trial court Justice, Justice Robert Clifford, found that the teen was in custody and entitled to Miranda warnings based on the following fact pattern:
- She had been in a terrible accident;
- She was frostbitten and in pain;
- She was sedated and immobilized;
- The investigating trooper told her that two of her passengers were dead and that she was likely the driver.
Based on these facts, Justice Clifford ruled that her admissions to texting and driving were inadmissible. Since this wasn't the case of a drunken driver, the State placed all their chips on the theory that she was driving while distracted and as such, was such a great departure from the normative behavior of the typical driver, that her actions rose to the level of recklessness, a key component of a manslaughter charge.
Today, the Maine Law Court affirmed the lower court's decision and ruled that the evidence of Kristina Lowe's confession will remain inadmissible. According to the Law Court, the confession was illegally obtained because Ms. Lowe reasonably believed that she was in police custody when she was questioned by the Maine State Police at the hospital.
Since there was no evidence of impaired driving or other reckless behavior, the State of Maine will have a very difficult time proving the manslaughter charges to a jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is likely, in light of the circumstances, that a plea deal for a misdemeanor will be offered in order to resolve the case. South Paris District Attorney Joseph O'Connor stated that while the decision wasn't a surprise, the DA's Office felt that they needed a Law Court ruling on the subject since the case involved the deaths of 2 young people.