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Mistaken Identity or Taking the Fall – The Contreras Case

Twenty-nine year old Blanca Contreras, a Guatemalan native, has been charged with vehicular homicide in the November 23, 2011 death of Scottie Coxall. Coxall, a Waltham, Massachusetts resident, was walking across the intersection of School and Church streets, when an SUV struck him and fled the scene. Coxall died at Massachusetts General Hospital a week later.

Contreras was arrested at her home the evening of the accident.  Although authorities believed that Contreras was the driver of the SUV that struck and killed Scottie Coxall, she is claiming mistaken identity.  Her boyfriend, William Vasquez, claimed that he was actually driving the SUV at the time of the collision.

Was Contreras really at fault?

Her trial has been postponed several times due to motions to dismiss and motions in limine by both parties.  In support of the mistaken identity defense, the sworn statement of a witness, William Pineda, was submitted to the Court saying that a male individual was driving the SUV at the time of the hit-and-run.  Considering the witness statement and the confession of Contrera’s boyfriend that he was the person driving, her attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case.

However, the Assistant District Attorney prosecuting this case, Ceara Mahoney, is not buying the confession.  For one reason, Vasquez did not make his “confession” until March 21, 2012, nearly four months after Contreras was arrested.  The Assistant District Attorney had this to say in her response to the defense motion:

The statement made by William Vasquez was after the defendant had been incarcerated and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had issued a detainer of the defendants pending removal procedures.  Vasquez had ample time to make such statement during the three separate conversations he had with the police on the night of the incident.

Prosecutors previously charged Vasquez, with lying to police in making his confession, but later dropped the charges.  The trial was scheduled to begin on October 24, 2013, but was again postponed.  A new trial date has not been set.

Mistaken Identity Defense

The elements that must be proven by the state when prosecuting someone for vehicular homicide, in Massachusetts are pretty straightforward.  The Assistant District Attorney must show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was driving recklessly or negligently, which directly caused the death of another. Implicit in this requirement of proof is establishing the identity of the defendant committing the crime.  Massachusetts’ jury instruction, explaining the identification requirement, states, in part, as follows:

One of the most important issues in this case is the identification of the defendant as the perpetrator of the crime. The Commonwealth has the burden of proving the identity of the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is not essential that any witnesses themselves be free from doubt as to the correctness of their identification of the defendant. However, you, the jury, must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of the accuracy of the identification of the defendant before you may convict him (her).

As identity is a necessary element of any crime, “mistaken identity” is obviously a viable defense to any crime.  Asserting this defense means the person is claiming to be innocent and a declaring that any eyewitness to the incident was mistaken in believing they saw the defendant, when instead they saw someone else.  This defense can question both the memory of the witness and the perception of the witness.

At this point, in the Blanca Contreras case, the question of whether the mistaken identity defense will be successful is still up in the air. Until it is resolved, the question remains: was Vasquez actually driving or did he try to take the blame for his girlfriend?