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What Did Senser Really Sense? The Amy Senser Trial

The verdict is in:  A Minnesota Jury Convicted Amy Senser of The Verdict Is In…Guilty.

Criminal Vehicular Homicide.  If you haven’t been up on your Minnesota news lately, Ms. Senser’s trial followed an accident where the vehicle she was driving hit and killed Anousone Phanthavong, who had been standing next to his car on a freeway exit ramp after his car ran out of gas.  Ms. Senser didn’t stop at the accident scene and in fact didn’t even admit she was driving the car until several days later.

To convict someone for criminal vehicular homicide based on leaving the scene of the accident, the prosecutor has to show that the person knew he or she had been involved in an accident with a person or another vehicle.  This is where big orange barrels came into play during the trial.  Amy Senser’s defense was that she thought she’d hit a construction barrel, and showed the jury the size and shape of one of those barrels.  Would it be possible to confuse hitting a person with hitting a construction barrel?  Some experiments might be able to show one way or the other, but that’s probably not a test many people are going to be willing to be guinea pigs for, at least on the “being hit” end!

The jury apparently tried to soften the blow of their conviction:  they sent a note asking if the court could let Ms. Senser know that they (the jury) believed she had only thought she hit another vehicle, not a person.  But in the legal world, this is actually meaningless, since a 2007 Minnesota Supreme Court case established that believing you hit another vehicle, and then leaving the scene of the accident, is enough to get you convicted of criminal vehicular homicide if you actually hit a person and the person dies. (The closing argument by the prosecutor, Ms. Deb Russell, was interesting as it seemed she was very angry and seemed to thrive on the anguish.  Most prosecutors act much more professional in court and are a quite a bit more detached in my experience).

The drama isn’t over with the verdict, though.  There is sentencing in a few weeks where Ms. Senser faces up to 4 years in prison.  With the added media hype it’s likely that the Judge might very well want to “send a message”. Amy Senser’s lawyer recently subpoenaed a local television station to try to get the raw footage of interviews the station did with jurors after the jurors had returned their verdict.  This is definitely an unusual move and will no doubt bring a fresh round of courtroom drama, so stay tuned!

As always, any comment or questions post them here.

Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office
Mankato, Minnesota