Definition of innocent third party discussed

Passengers in vehicles fleeing law enforcement could be charged with a crime under legislation heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb 7.

LB881, introduced by Syracuse Sen. Dan Watermeier, would codify the judicial definition of “innocent third party” to mean any person who has not promoted, provoked or persuaded a driver to engage in flight from law enforcement and one who is not sought to be apprehended in the fleeing vehicle.

The bill also would expand the definition to acknowledge circumstances when a passenger in a fleeing vehicle should not be considered an innocent third party. This could occur when it is evident that the passenger was engaged in illegal activity or entered into the vehicle without coercion or knowing that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Watermeier said he introduced the bill because “innocent third party” is not defined in statute. He also cited a recent lawsuit in which a passenger in a fleeing vehicle may not have been innocent.

Omaha Deputy City Attorney Tom Mumgaard testified in support of the bill, saying that expanding the definition would better describe what police are actually encountering.

“The current definition doesn’t fit reality,” Mumgaard said.

Jason Ausman of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys testified in opposition to the bill, saying it is difficult to know what effect a passenger’s actions have on a fleeing driver.

The committee took no immediate action on LB881.

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