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Michigan court overturns conviction in fatal traffic incident, citing legislative intent

The Michigan Court of Appeals has overturned a conviction related to a fatal traffic incident involving the death of a 10-year-old girl in suburban Detroit.

The Michigan Court of Appeals threw out a conviction in the traffic death of a 10-year-old girl in suburban Detroit, saying the Legislature didn’t intend to turn bad brakes into a crime.

Tim Otto was driving a dump truck in Warren when the brakes failed as he approached a busy intersection in July 2020. A backhoe attached to the truck tipped over and landed on a Honda Accord, killing Giana Giannini.

Otto was acquitted of second-degree murder but convicted of reckless driving causing death. He was sentenced to about 2 1/2 years in prison.

In a 2-1 opinion, the court criticized the Macomb County prosecutor’s office for a "novel, expansive reading" of state law.

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An expert testifying for the defense said Otto could not have foreseen a sudden ruptured brake line on the truck.

"There was no evidence that Otto operated the truck and trailer in a reckless manner. But there was conflicting evidence about whether the brake failure was the result of his poor maintenance," judges Noah Hood and Elizabeth Gleicher said Thursday.

Otto’s lawyer was deficient by failing to challenge the reckless-driving charge, the court said.

"We vacate his conviction," the court said. "To hold otherwise would be to allow the prosecution — not the Legislature — to criminalize a wide array of commonplace conduct — such as failing to check your brakes, driving on old tires, and driving on empty — that the Legislature did not intend to outlaw."

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