None for the road

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

A controversial French legal decision now enlarges personal responsibility for allowing a drunk driver behind the wheel — one of the main causes of over 8,000 road deaths in France every year.


French lawyers, restaurateurs and humble barmen are trying to make sense of a landmark legal ruling under which a Burgundy cafe-owner was convicted for serving alcohol to a drunk driver.

Marc Bauduin, from the town of Varanges, was given a two-month suspended prison sentence in early April after admitting selling two jugs of wine in October 2002 to a known alcoholic — who then drove his vehicle into a tree, killing three passengers.

"This has opened up a very dangerous door for our profession," said Jean-Louis Humbert, president of the union of cafe-owners in the Côte-d'Or department.

"The cafe-owner will from now on look at the client with a very different eye. The conviction opens the way for all sorts of abuses. Next it will be a tobacconist who is convicted for causing a smoker's cancer," he commented.

Bauduin, who was ordered to close his bar following the accident, was found guilty of "complicity in the crime of driving in an alcoholic state, by the act of ... serving alcoholic drinks."

Prosecutor Boris Duffau told the court that "an accomplice is someone who knowingly, by help or assistance, facilitates the preparation or accomplishment of a crime.

"In this case Mr Bauduin intentionally supplied the means for the crime of driving in a state of drunkenness. He contributed to the realisation of the damage. He was not a witness, but a party."

The conviction came after the French government stepped up the fight against the country's persistently bad road safety record. President Jacques Chirac has made a reduction in the over 8,000 deaths every year as one of the priorities of his second term.

But some lawyers were also concerned about the implications of the ruling, which they said stretched beyond recognition of the notion of responsibility.

Bauduin's lawyer, Patrick Audard, claimed it was "judicial heresy."

"The word 'knowingly' has long been analysed in French jurisprudence. The crime of complicity presupposes not only knowledge of a crime that is to be committed, but above all a deliberate desire to associate oneself with the commission of that crime," he said.

"If cafe-owners no longer have the right to serve more than three glasses, then that must be written into the law. But it is not your right to create a new kind of criminal charge.

"It is not the man who steals the ladder who is an accomplice, but the man who takes an active part in the escape," he told the court.

The drunk-driver, Phillippe Schehr, was given 18 months in jail for involuntary homicide.

April 2003


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