According to 20 Minutes, a driver who caused a fatal accident while driving and using a mobile phone, has been charged with constructive manslaughter (meurtre par dol éventuel), a charge brought against those who willfully put lives at risk and kill someone. It is a harsher sentence than involuntary manslaughter (homicide par négligence), a charge where death is caused by negligence.
The trial, which starts today in the town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, centres on an incident in the town at just after 7AM on 1 September 2016. A 26-year-old man, who is accused of sending two messages and concluding an online order on his phone while driving, collided with a 50-year-old man on a scooter travelling in the other direction on the correct side of the road. The man on the scooter was fatally injured.
According to the public prosecutor, the driver was aware his actions could put lives at risk and disregarded the lives of others using public roads. The more serious charge of constructive manslaughter requires the accused to be aware their behaviour can lead to death. According to 20 Minutes, the sanction for constructive manslaughter is five and a half years in prison.
If successful, the case could set a new legal precedent and increase the chance of similarly harsh sanctions in other such cases.
Swiss law imposes summary fines of CHF 100 for using a phone without a handsfree device while driving. In addition, the law requires a driver to maintain control of their vehicle and to avoid any form of distraction. Prosecution can result in large fines, loss of license and prison. Insurance payouts can also be affected when there is an accident.
Update: The court sentenced the man with involuntary manslaughter rather than the harsher sentence of constructive manslaughter requested by the public prosecutor. He was sanctioned with a 14 month prison sentence, suspended for two years. The court ruled that the driver was not aware his actions could lead to death, something required to classify the incident as constructive manslaughter.