Saaremaa drunk driver murder charge overturned

Tallinn Circuit Court building on Pärnu mnt.
Tallinn Circuit Court building on Pärnu mnt. Source:

A court has overturned a murder conviction of a drunk driver who killed three members of the same family, including an eight-month-old-baby, on the island of Saaremaa in January last year, and reclassified it as a traffic offense. The accused's jail sentence has been reduced from 14 years to 10 years and 8 months. Counsel for the accused, Anu Toomemägi, said that the one of the deceased in the accident, the driver of one of two vehicles involved, bore some culpability by violating traffic rules, adding that Estonia's penal code allows for this consideration.

The second-tier Tallinn Circuit Court reclassified the earlier county court conviction as a traffic offense, which carries a penalty of three to 12 years' imprisonment, rather than a murder conviction. However, a sentence near to the maximum conviction possible is justifiable, the court found, sentencing the accessed, Andres Reinart, to 10 years and eight months in prison.

In January 2020 Reinart caused a fatal accident on the island of Saaremaa, in which three people, including an eight-month-old, were killed, and one severely injured. Reinart was heavily intoxicated at the time.

The determining factor for the circuit court was intent; the court found that while this was present in relation to a traffic offense, he did not intend to cause death or injury, meaning a murder conviction was not appropriate.

The replacement conviction relates to violations of traffic requirements or vehicle operating rules by driver in state of intoxication when and where it causes the death of two or more people.

BNS reports that a previous case with similar circumstances had met with a less severe punishment, indicating that case-law in this sphere has become stricter.

Two women and an infant died in the crash, which took place at high speed on a highway on Saaremaa, on the afternoon of January 11 2020.

Reinart overtook a passenger car as it was turning left off the highway, hitting it and killing the driver, a 27-year-old woman, her eight-month-old baby and her 58-year-old-mother. Another passenger and family member, a 37-year-old woman, was hospitalized as a result of the crash.

Reinart's speed had been clocked at 138 kph around 10 km from the crash site and an hour after the accident, his blood alcohol content (BAC) was measured at 3.51 per mille, though subsequent expert analysis lowered the figure to 1.82 per mille.

Reinart says he remembers nothing of the accident itself. He had originally been sentenced to 14-years' prison time, following a ruling by Pärnu County Court, sitting at the Kuressaare courthouse on Saaremaa and under the direction of the prosecutor's office western district.

The circuit court also stripped Reinart of his driver's license, for a two-year period.

Reinart's defense counsel Anu Toomemägi had sought the overturning of her client's sentence and its reevaluation as a traffic crime, or alternatively a re-trial at county court level.

Toomemägi said that the section of the Penal Code dealing with murder is not justified in the case of a traffic offense and that her client must be acquitted on that charge.

She also noted the county court also should have taken into account that contributory fault was entailed in the tragic accident, as also the driver of the vehicle of the victims violated traffic rules and that a specific section exists in the Penal Code that is applied in the case of such traffic accidents.    


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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