How the data from a Tesla Model S saved a driver from being sentenced for attempted homicide.
Werner Dechant, a 55 year old German Tesla owner, in 2017 drove through a police control on a federal highway while overtaking a vehicle at about 140 km/h (87 mph). He saw the police officer in the middle of the road in front of him a bit too late, got into a panic, accelerated, and even escaped. Since the police officer had to jump aside and claimed the car would have killed him, and since he had two witnesses in the vehicle behind who testified accordingly, the driver was found guilty and indicted for attempted homicide.
Although the officer was hard for any driver to see in the dark night, possibly with no yellow warning vest on, it was seemingly a clear case for the judge and the jury, until Tesla released vehicle data that proved the officer and witnesses to be wrong. The police officer actually wouldn’t have been hit even if he hadn’t moved. Therefore, there was no reason for him to jump aside other than that he of course believed he was in danger. To be fair, if a vehicle is approaching you at high speed at night, you would jump — making a mistake in such a situation can be fatal.
Tesla did not release the data easily, but the case does show how fast people can go to prison (or worse) if witnesses and the police have an impression of what happened that is different from reality. Many don’t know that our memory is influenced by a lot of factors, and can even change over time. Therefore, witnesses are often overvalued by a jury in such cases. Many trials are recorded of people even convinced that they have done a crime and confessed to it — and many of those go into prison or even got the death penalty — despite it being revealed later that they did not do the crime and were not guilty.
It needs to be said that the driver did not at all behave correctly, escaping from the scene of a crime and hiding in a forest right afterward. He even colored his hair to not be identified later. But he also paid a price for it by losing his company and having costs over time of €800,000 to prove his innocence. He was in the system for other incidents before that and likely was afraid of losing his driver’s license, which he got back after the sentence. A €9,000 fine was also dropped.
It was a jury that made the sentence, but the judge, Mr. Windisch, interestingly is also a Tesla driver, which may have helped to assure that data could be used in a fair trial. In many countries, recorded data usage is a controversial matter, and in Europe there is even a sentence from the highest court that a vehicle constantly recording is not legal. Saving data is highly restricted, and if at all allowed is quickly deleted afterward.
The prosecutor, Dr. Marco Heß, concluded regarding the free sentence:
“Everyone may reconsider for themselves whether it is always so bad” to save data and use it in such cases.
Luckily, recorded data — like from a Tesla in an accident or to find a suspect — is again accepted by the police and court in Germany. Personal rights are weighed high in Europe, and therefore personal data is protected strongly.
In a personal case, just a few months ago, a Mercedes driver was attempting to push me in my vehicle on the Autobahn against the left barrier, which I could prove with 3 videos my Tesla Model 3 recorded. The police officer I reported the incident to was later even asking if I could provide data of the face of the driver to convict him.
All of this shows how important data can be to reveal the truth and find people who are guilty or prove others to be innocent. Protection of personal data is important and needs to be secured, but not permitting recording or deleting the data too quickly can, as we see in the above case, even lead to innocent people going to prison.
Just imagine if Werner Dechant would have been driving something other than a Tesla Model S and driving it that night in 2017 in the same circumstance. He would today be in prison for attempted homicide.
We all have seen videos from Tesla Sentry Mode showing people damaging vehicles or on highways where accidents happened, but to use the data from a Tesla to prove a person is not guilty of attempted homicide is a different level and should encourage the strongest naysayers to reconsider and understand that regardless of what people may think about Tesla as a company, its products, its CEO, or its market capitalization, the data the vehicles provide make our life every day a little bit safer.
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