‘Rule of two’ lets dangerous drivers off with a citation, some say

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 9/2/20

GLEN WILD, NY — On June 2, 2019,  Isaac Kantrowitz, 87, of Woodridge, allegedly struck and killed Justin Finkel, 14, and Devin Zeininger, 16.

Now, Kantrowitz has been arraigned by a …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

‘Rule of two’ lets dangerous drivers off with a citation, some say

Posted

GLEN WILD, NY — On June 2, 2019,  Isaac Kantrowitz, 87, of Woodridge, struck and killed Justin Finkel, 14, and Devin Zeininger, 16.

Now, Kantrowitz has been arraigned by a Sullivan County Grand Jury. He is charged with one count of reckless driving and two offenses for violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, including failure to exercise due care and speeding, said Sullivan County Acting District Attorney Meagan Galligan.

The reckless driving charge is an unclassified misdemeanor.

Not a felony.

“The families are reckoning with their emotions,” Galligan said in an interview. “The emotional side of this can’t be underestimated.” 

But the real problem is a New York state legal precedent which requires prosecutors to prove that two motor vehicle violations took place before they can charge someone with criminal negligence. Known informally as the “rule of two,” it has either allowed reckless drivers to go unpunished or has given a break to drivers who made a mistake while operating a vehicle, resulting in someone’s death.

Where you land on this depends on your perspective and the situation. But it leaves prosecutors trying to prove that defendants knew they were doing something wrong when the accident happened. 

“It’s important to highlight the difficulties the grand jury faced,” Galligan said. 

They had to look for certain types of violations. Not everything counts, says a recent discussion in the Touro Law Review. 

Galligan gave an example. “Dangerous seating, aggravated by dangerous things like running red lights” would show negligence. 

(For a deep dive, see Touro Law Review, How to Deter Pedestrian Deaths.)

In her statement to the press, Galligan said that: 

• It is alleged that the defendant’s phone was engaged in an outgoing call in a legally permissible, hand-free manner at the time of the crash.

• It is alleged that the defendant’s vehicle was traveling at a speed of approximately 62 mph at the time of the crash, in an area of Glen Wild Road having a speed limit of 45 mph.

• There was no indication that the defendant was impaired by drugs or alcohol.

• The defendant has a prosthetic right eye. He was driving with a valid license, in compliance with the condition that he wear corrective lenses.

It might seem a bit arbitrary to require two violations to demonstrate criminal negligence (and neither is the actual death of the victim). Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr., along with state senators Timothy Kennedy and Brad Hoylman, have introduced a bill that would create a new article in the state’s penal law to remedy the problem. Called “Vehicular Violence,” it would establish four new offenses, “including the class A misdemeanor ‘Death by Vehicle,’ and class B misdemeanor ‘Serious Physical Injury by Vehicle,’” according to Vance’s release in October 2019. 

“Vance’s legislation is important,” Galligan said, emphasizing her office’s support for the bill in her press conference.

But it isn’t law yet. In the meantime, there is the law as it stands, a structure that the Manhattan DA has called “broken.” 

In the Kantrowitz case, the grand jury procedures were followed, Galligan said. “That allowed them to make a fully informed decision... I do believe there has been integrity in the process.” 

But if we want to change laws and precedents, “we need to push legislators to address the situation.” 

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment