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High court to hear appeal

Case involves 2011 fatal wreck

POSTED: March 29, 2013 12:30 a.m.
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It’s been nearly a year since a jury held Walter Bell of Atlanta responsible for causing a July 2011 wreck that claimed the life of a 21-year-old woman on Ga. 400.

On Monday, the Supreme Court of Georgia is scheduled to hear arguments in an appeal filed by Bell and his attorney, Rafe Banks, challenging his conviction.

According to the Supreme Court case summary, Banks questions the constitutionality of the state’s hit-and-run law. The “statutory obligation to return and identify himself is contrary to and in violation of [Bell’s] right to not incriminate himself pursuant to the 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Bell, who was 44 at the time of the incident, received a 15-year sentence in April from Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson. The judge ordered him to spend 12 years in prison and the remaining three on probation.

The sentence came after Bell was convicted of first-degree homicide by vehicle, reckless driving, leaving the scene of an accident and tampering with evidence.

During the trial, the prosecution showed that Bell had cut in front of a vehicle driven by 21-year-old Jenny McMillan Gutierrez of Roswell.

The rented Mercedes Benz he was driving later crossed in front of her again and braked suddenly, which reportedly caused her to swerve in an evasive manner, cross both lanes of traffic and land deep in the woods along Ga. 400.

After the incident, which occurred on a Saturday morning, witnesses said Bell sped away from the scene.

Banks announced his intent to appeal after the sentencing.

According to the Supreme Court case summary, Banks also contends Bell was denied his due process rights by the refusal to consider that McMillan Gutierrez was not wearing a seat belt as evidence of negligence.

Banks also questions the charge of reckless driving, a felony, when the state had argued that the offense was aggressive driving, a misdemeanor.

That could have amounted to a difference between serving 12 years in prison or 12 months.

In its response, the Forsyth County district attorney’s office maintains the ruling was constitutional.

According to the case summary, the county feels the state “statute does not infringe upon one’s right against self-incrimination. It simply requires one involved in an accident to identify himself and provide his address and insurance information.”

The response continues, “It does not require him to provide details leading up to the accident, his opinion or belief as to the cause of the accident, or in what manner he was involved.”

 

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