Discovery of Interview Transcription Error Leads to Reversal of Teen Driver’s Conviction by Oregon Courts of Appeals

On January 2014, the Oregon Courts of Appeals reversed the conviction of a teenage girl driver for killing a motorcyclist because of drowsy driving on finding the transcript of her interview with police after the fatal accident was flawed. The trial court convicted the 17-year old as a juvenile following the determination that the acts committed by her would have constituted criminally negligent homicide and assault in the third degree if they had been committed by an adult. She had been sentenced to a lifetime loss of her driving privileges, five years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

According to the report in The Oregonian, the teenager testified that she had felt tired after starting the driving (as she had slept for only about five hours the night before) and had been looking for a place to pull over. She turned into the oncoming traffic before she could see a pull-off spot and fell asleep, hitting and killing the motorcyclist. She presented an expert testimony before the court which said that drivers can feel drowsy and fall asleep very quickly (in less than 60 seconds). The appeals court agreed with the defense expert that drivers may not get enough time to find a safe place to pull over and take a nap. However, the prosecution argued that the girl had enough time and opportunity to pull over, but that she didn’t do so.

It was the scrutiny of the transcript of the driver’s interview with an Oregon State Police trooper that got her case overturned by the Court of Appeals. According to the transcript, the girl said, “I knew I should have pulled off”. However, the recording showed that she actually said, “I knew I shouldn’t put it off”, which has quite different meaning from the transcript used by the judge. The discovery of the error in the interview transcription led the appellate court to scrutinize the facts of the case for itself and dismiss the circuit judge’s finding. The court said the girl should not be held criminally responsible for the accident as she had not committed an “strong deviation from the standard of care” and reversed the conviction.

This incident indicates the importance of accuracy in transcription. In this case, the teenager could have been convicted if the error in the transcript of the interview was not detected. An accurate verbatim transcript is critical for a legal case as it decides whether a person guilty or not. Professional legal transcription services come with multi-level quality checks to ensure top accuracy in the final transcripts.

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