Court rules vehicular homicide charges will stand

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed an earlier ruling by the state's appellate court and reinstated vehicular homicide charges against a Lawrenceville man charged with killing his passenger in a 2007 crash.

Aron Mussman, 27, has languished for three years at the Gwinnett County Jail after initially being cleared and allowed to leave the crash scene.

Mussman is accused of speeding on Hutchins Road in Lawrenceville in a convertible 2003 Mazda Miata and failing to negotiate a curve about 2 a.m. Oct. 9, 2007. The car flipped at least once and came to rest on its roof, killing Daniel Stephens, according to court documents.

Stephens died of blunt force trauma to his head and chest; Mussman was not injured.

Six months later, police determined Mussman had actually been driving after taking tissue samples from the passenger side and analyzing seat belt positions. However, the main source of evidence -- the car -- had been released to a wrecker service and subsequently to Mussman's father months before, the court said in an opinion.

Mussman's lawyer hired an investigator who traced the car to Canada, where it had been repaired and sold. Knowing that, Mussman filed a motion to dismiss his indictment on vehicular homicide charges, claiming police acted in bad faith by failing to maintain the car or inform him he was a suspect before releasing it.

Georgia's Court of Appeals agreed, finding that police violated a law that requires government entities to maintain any evidence containing biological material.

But in a unanimous opinion published Monday, Supreme Court justices found that the earlier ruling would lead to "an absurd result" in that evidence rooms across the state would be overwhelmed with vehicles, furniture and even corpses containing the slightest shred of DNA evidence.

Evidence rooms would be forced to expand to "unimaginable and unwieldy levels," Justice Harold Melton wrote of the earlier logic.

Justices also ruled against the lower court in finding Gwinnett police did not act in bad faith -- that is, intentionally withholding material evidence -- by releasing the crashed car. "(Police) followed the standard policy of releasing evidence in vehicular homicide cases that they considered to be solved," the opinion states.

Mussman remains at the Gwinnett County Jail without bond. No trial date has been set.