The Superior Court has recently decided the case of Commonwealth v. Akhmedov, No. 3443 EDA 2015 (December 8, 2017), holding that the Commonwealth failed to establish the crime of Third Degree Murder beyond a reasonable doubt because, although Akhmedov’s actions certainly gave rise to a finding of reckless conduct, the evidence did not support a finding of malice and the “sustained, purposeful recklessness” necessary to prove “a knowing and conscious disregard that death or serious bodily injury was reasonably certain to occur.”

Akhmedov and another driver engaged in a race on a street in Philadelphia. Each car was observed weaving through traffic at speeds in excess of 70 m.p.h. on a street with a 40 m.p.h. speed limit. As they approached an intersection with a hill that made it difficult to see on approach, a mother and her three children happened to be crossing the intersection on foot. Akhmedov attempted to evade them but, was too late to change his course. Instead, he struck the four individuals. A police accident reconstructionist examined the scene and determined the path of the collision. The reconstructionist concluded that, at the time of impact, Akhmedov was traveling at a minimum speed of 79 m.p.h.

The intersection where the accident occurred was at the crest of a hill, rendering it difficult to see. The accident occurred at 10:30 p.m., and the victims were wearing dark clothing. Further, there were no pedestrian crosswalks in the area, as the intersection was not intended for pedestrian traffic. Akhmedov told police that he did not see the victims at first and, attempted to swerve to avoid them but could not. He remained at the scene and attempted to render aid. He was not intoxicated at the time of the crash.

The mother and one child were were pronounced dead at the scene and the two remaining children passed away at hospitals the next day.

Following a bench trial, Akhmedov was convicted of four counts each of murder in the third degree, involuntary manslaughter, homicide by vehicle, and recklessly endangering another person.

Akhmedov appealed his four third degree murder convictions, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction because the Commonwealth did not establish that he had the requisite mens rea. In other words, he claimed that the evidence was insufficient to show he acted with malice; specifically, he did not operate his vehicle under circumstances which almost assured that injury or death would ensue. (He did not appeal his convictions for the other offenses.)

The Superior Court first noted that malice “exists where there is a wickedness of disposition, hardness of heart, cruelty, recklessness of consequences, and a mind regardless of social duty, although a particular person may not be intended to be injured. Where malice is based on a reckless disregard of consequences, it is not sufficient to show mere recklessness; rather, it must be shown the defendant consciously disregarded an unjustified and extremely high risk that his actions might cause death or serious bodily injury. A defendant must display a conscious disregard for almost certain death or injury such that it is tantamount to an actual desire to injure or kill; at the very least, the conduct must be such that one could reasonably anticipate death or serious bodily injury would likely and logically result.”

Additionally, the Superior Court noted that it has previously concluded that to show malice in relation to a car crash, the evidence must show “sustained, purposeful recklessness necessary to prove a knowing and conscious disregard that death or serious bodily injury was reasonably certain to occur.”

After reviewing a number of prior decisions involving vehicle-related deaths, the Superior Court concluded that the evidence here showed that Akhmedov acted recklessly in driving at excessive rates of speed on Roosevelt Boulevard. However, the Court also concluded that although Akhmedov acted recklessly, the recklessness necessary to prove involuntary manslaughter (the convictions of which Akhmedov did not appeal), and the sustained recklessness required for third degree murder are not the same.

Accordingly, because the Commonwealth did not establish the sustained recklessness required in this case, Akhmedov’s four convictions for third degree murder were vacated.

CASE LINK:,%20Reversed%20and%20Vacated%20%2010334812430505086.pdf?cb=1


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