CAN PRIOR INSTANCES OF RECKLESS DRIVING BE USED TO PROVE A DEFENDANT HAS A REPUTATION FOR DRIVING RECKLESSLY?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Gardner v. Pereboom, 197 Kan. 188, 416 P.2d 67 (1966).
This case addresses the following issue:
Can prior instances of reckless driving be used to prove a defendant has a reputation for driving recklessly?
Even though some evidence may seem relevant, the law does not allow that evidence to be admitted at trial. In this case, the court dealt with one such example: prior instances of reckless driving. Id. at 195. The court found that such instances were not admissible in this case. Id. Thus, the trial court was correct in refusing to admit such evidence. Id.
In this case, Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle approaching an intersection. Id. at 190. Defendant was driving a car heading the opposite direction of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Id. Defendant was attempting to make a left-hand turn, which would require Defendant to turn across the lane of traffic that Plaintiff was traveling in. Id. Defendant began to make the turn, but determine that he lacked sufficient time to make the turn in front of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Id. As a result, Defendant stopped his vehicle in the intersection, with a portion of the vehicle in Plaintiff’s lane of travel. Id. The driver could not stop the vehicle in time, resulting in the vehicle striking Defendant’s vehicle. Id.
The court noted that “evidence of specific instances of conduct intended to prove a character trait” are generally inadmissible. Id. at 195. The court noted that this had been determined in another case, which was quite similar to this matter. Id. In that case, the court did not allow the jury to hear about specific instances of reckless driving “to prove the general reputation of the driver.” Id.
Turning to this matter, the court found that a single instances of prior reckless driving by the driver of Plaintiff’s vehicle was properly withheld from the jury. Id. This is because “a single offense of reckless driving does not form the basis for an inference of recklessness at the time of the subsequent accident or of a general reckless character.” Id. Based on other issues, the matter would be remanded for a new trial; however, the court instructed the trial court to stand by its previous decision to prevent evidence of prior instances of reckless driving from being admitted into evidence. Id.