Former Harvard Law Professor Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Homicide

Retired international law professor Detlev Vagts, 82, has pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the death of Marcia Kearney in Newton, Massachusetts. In light of his plea and presumably his age, Vagts was spared prison time in favor of three years probation and six months of house arrest. He has been ordered not to drive for the rest of his life.


Vagts is the Bemis Professor of International Law, Emeritus. He spent 40 years as a professor at the Law School, retired in 2005.

Kearney, 54, was a Newton Country Day school teacher riding a scooter when Vagts hit her while driving partially in the opposite lane of travel. At the time, Vagts and his wife were lost and ‚Äúrunning late for a dentist appointment.” Kearney was thrown more than 80 feet.

He was also ordered to write a letter of apology to the family.

Source: Boston as first seen on ABA Journal.

14 thoughts on “Former Harvard Law Professor Pleads Guilty to Vehicular Homicide

  1. Even in view of his age, that’s a slap on the wrist. A letter seems woefully inadequate when compared to a life taken. The victim, riding a Vespa, was thrown 80 feet and Vagts drove about a football field and a half (448 feet)before stopping. That’s evidence of high speed or contemplation of flight. Either of which should have called for a more severe sentence.

  2. personally, I think people over about 70 should be required to take a battery of tests to prove they have both the cognitive and physical ability to drive a car. The bar should be set at about what could be reasonably expected from a person around age 50-55.

  3. Thanks mespo……I was just throwing it out there…..I am a compassionate soul for the most part….I do recall a judge once asking me if I thought any of my clients ever deserved to go to jail….I responded….Not is they are my clients as I try and see good in everyone…..I never represented…Capitol Offenses…….Just not in my nature…..

  4. I agree with you. Some of the most infamous people I represented had more ethics than some of the cops who caught them. That said, a Harvard professor certainly could do more for the community and the family than a letter of apology.

  5. Dear God, no! I agree with Roco about something?

    My FIL got an automatic 5-year extension on his driver’s license, at the age of 85, after he had started having fainting spells. He gave up driving only when he was bedbound. That shouldn’t have happened.

  6. A friend of mine, an Ohio State Trooper and accident investigator, has always said, “All it takes to introduce tragedy into people’s lives is one momentary drift over the center line.”

    That being said and applying to drivers of all ages, my 79 year old mother, a fiercely independent woman (go figure), would not give up driving. I talked to her about it till I was blue in the face but to no avail. Finally I had to, for the sake of her own life and others, take legal action. Her wrath was monumental.

    Six months later her best friend, another independent 78 year old female, failed to notice a child riding his bicycle on the sidewalk as she was backing out of her driveway. Miraculously, the child only suffered minor bumps and bruises but her driver’s license was “permanently suspended”. (Isn’t that a funny term?)

    My mother’s wrath towards me completely abated as she watched her friend suffer the never ending remorse that she could have killed a child. (Her friend was a retired pediatrician.) I went from complete villianhood to heroine in my mother’s eyes.

    Last year Tex and I had our lawyer prepare a document for our daughter, who holds “Power of Atty”, agreeing to give up driving whenever our daughter determines we should. It’s not really legally binding but would, if we become stubborn, give her some standing.

    As the baby-boomers age, I foresee many problems for society in general … a bunch of half-blind, half-deaf, slow reacting drivers on the road is one of them.

  7. Tragic there are way to many elderly way up in their 80’s on the road some not all have no business driving any longer…

    Can we institute a driving test for those of great age, say 75 and over or 80 and over..I think pubic safety should require this…

    There have been cases of many being injured and even killed by disoriented elderly drivers…

    Of course it goes without saying that there is a severe prejudice for those in the Law Profession over the rest of us mere mortals…

    The “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment is a bad joke, an abomination as we are all aware…

    When drunk a drunk NJ cop crashed into me after drinking at a Go-Go bar for 5-6 hours at a Bachelors party he threw for the recipient it was none other than that swine hypocrite Samuel A. Alito who ran and directed the cover up for the cop who had 5 accidents in 7 months and 7 in less than 18 months…

    This cop then thanks to Alito was allowed to retaliate against me for over a decade along with his friends driving us me and the women I loved out of our hoe towns and the criminal state of New Jersey…

    She was sexually assaulted for 3 hours by a police Sgt. in the Caldwell area and then miscarried what would have been my only child…the Sgt. was alone in the small station hose with her sending the rookie out on the road as he assaulted her….and then framed her on a DUI at retaliation against me for the cop Alito broke many laws to protect…

    As I said the 14th Amendment Equal protection Clause is a joke and living lie just look at Bush and Cheney and how Obama and Holder have immunized them from our nation’s laws…

  8. Mike Spindell1, September 21, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I hope when the time comes I will have the wisdom to stop driving.
    ——————————
    I hope when it comes time that you have an alternative. We don’t need driving tests so much as we need viable alternatives so our elderly don’t become shut-ins. Many of my private clients have no desire to drive…it is incredibly stressfull on the road for EVERYONE these days. And yet it is an unfair expectation that an 80 year old can take a bus to the grocery store and lug back even the little they tend to buy…have you any idea of the risk involved in that? Not to mention the cost, the toll in energy, the vulnerability to elements both criminal and natural….it is an all day task and it’s not like we make it easy.

    We begrudge Healthcare, we begrudge Socal Security, we can not stand to see our older generation comfortable …or those who labour…or those who have had bad luck or crises or tradgedy…only Corporations seem to earn our regard and ‘understanding’…..

    That man must be so torn up….what purpose could jail time serve in this instance?

  9. When it became available, my wife and I bought the Compact Disk version of “Roadwise Review” from the American Automobile Association, and I use it about once a year to see whether it scores me as having any impairment as a driver. The last time I ran the program was about a year ago, so I decided to run it today, to find out how impaired I have become as an older driver.

    My impairment score today? “None.” If ever I get a different score, I will need to find an alternative to driving.

    It is perhaps sad that many older drivers do not get objective testing of their practical driving ability. I understand that Roadwise Review is now available at no cost via the Internet; perhaps all older drivers would wisely use it.

    On the theory that I may be alive for a while yet, I am making budget provisions for getting a recumbent quadracycle with electric motor assist, (low speed electric bicycles do not require a driver’s license where I live) as a way to take back roads to town for groceries when driving a car is no longer wise. Alas, we really do not have enough rural land for a proper horse, horse barn, surrey, and horse meadow.

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