WEST JORDAN A motion filed by the defense in the case of a Taylorsville police officer charged with negligent homicide raises the question of whether any law enforcer, firefighter or ambulance driver who responds to an emergency in Utah is actually protected by state law when they engage in emergency driving.
The trial for Joseph Corbett was scheduled to begin Tuesday. Instead, it was continued after new motions were filed by both the prosecution and defense.
Defense attorney Ed Brass filed a motion to have the case dismissed and another to bar a witness for the state from testifying.
The state filed its own motion to have the trial continued and said it anticipated filing another motion soon to restrict information regarding texting on the part of the victim from being presented during trial.
Corbett was responding to assist other officers involved in a high-speed chase on Feb. 7, 2007 about 12:40 a.m. At the intersection of 4700 South Redwood Road he crashed into another vehicle driven by 27-year-old John Douglas of Tooele who was killed.
The defense says Corbett was traveling with his lights and siren on, that he had a green light, that Douglas was driving with the painkiller Tramadol in his system and was text messaging while driving.
Prosecutors contend the light for Corbett was red and he did not properly "clear" the intersection the way all law enforcers are expected.
One of the key elements of the case has been the argument of department policy versus state rule or law. The defense has argued, and 3rd District Judge Robert Adkins has so far agreed, that a police department's own policy does not meet the same standard as state law.
Now, Brass said after looking again at the Utah Code, there may be a problem with the entire emergency vehicle operation rule for all law enforcement agencies.
"It's not a loophole, it's a failure," he said.
According to the statute that outlines the rules for emergency driving and exempts police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers from following regular highway rules, lights and sirens must be used, the driver must abide by departmental policy and that policy has to conform with the rule established by the Department of Public Safety.
"The Department of Public Safety shall make rules providing minimum standards for all emergency pursuit policies that are adopted by public agencies authorized to operate emergency pursuit vehicles," according to 41-6a-212.
For negligent homicide to be proven, Brass said there must be a gross deviation from the standard. The problem, according to Brass, is that no standard has been put on the rule book yet.
"How do you become criminally negligent when no one has put you on notice as to what the standard is?" he asked.
DPS spokesman Sgt. Jeff Nigbur said the department is in the process of finalizing that standard.
"We have one done," he said.
The new DPS rule for emergency driving was constructed after gathering input from all the emergency vehicle operator instructors in the state, Nigbur said. It then went through the department's person who deals with legislative rules who in turn sent it back to DPS for some revisions. Once those revisions are completed and the DPS rules person gives the OK, the rule will be posted for 30 days for public input, as required by state law, before being officially adopted.Another court hearing is set for April 23, at which time the issues of Tramadol, text messaging and other motions are expected to be argued. A four-day trial was rescheduled to begin June 24.
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