'Do-not-resuscitate' order at issue in Minnesota Supreme Court case

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON
  • Star Tribune
  • November 27, 2012 - 8:15 PM

A drunken driver's claim that he was not responsible for the death of a 93-year-old woman killed in a 2010 crash because her "do-not-resuscitate" order kept her from potentially life-saving medical care will be reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Eddie Cortez Smith, 34, was convicted by a Ramsey County District Court jury in June 2011 of criminal vehicular homicide in the death of Edith Schouveller of St. Paul on March 28, 2010. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum term allowed by state law.

His conviction was affirmed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in September. The state's high court will next hear arguments in the case, that is expected to set a precedent, said Bradford Colbert, an attorney handling Smith's appeal. "The court doesn't want this issue hanging in legal limbo," he said.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Kaarin Long, who is prosecuting the case, agreed the case will give some needed clarity to the law on a difficult issue.

The case turns on the argument that Schouveller's living will with the do-not-resuscitate order was a "superseding event" that rendered evidence from the crash insufficient to prove that Smith caused her death. Under state law, a person can't be convicted of criminal vehicular homicide if such a superseding event occurred.

The Appeals Court found the do-not-resuscitate order doesn't meet that legal definition. "It is clear from the record that the state presented sufficient evidence that Smith's actions played a substantial part in Schouveller's death," the court ruled.

According to court documents, Schouveller was a vibrant, independent woman who was riding with two other people to church about 10:30 a.m. through St. Paul's West Seventh Street neighborhood. As the car went through the intersection of Milton Avenue and Watson Street, it was struck by a car driven by Smith, who has going more than 50 miles per hour.

A subsequent blood test showed an alcohol concentration of 0.11 percent, 0.03 over the legal limit.

Schouveller was hospitalized with a brain injury, scalp laceration and multiple spinal fractures. She was in considerable pain, unable to eat or walk. Her condition deteriorated. Doctors could not perform surgery on her broken neck because of her age, court records say.

When she developed pneumonia, doctors determined she needed a small tube inserted into her lungs to aid her breathing. But court documents show she only wanted antibiotics, and no breathing tube if it did not restore her to her preferred quality of life.

She died 13 days after the crash. At trial, one of her doctors said Shouveller might have lived with a breathing tube -- prompting the legal argument that her pneumonia, not crash injuries, caused her death.

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson

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