US Driver Faces Trial in Death of UK Teen

( – A 2019 accident that resulted in the death of a teen is raising concerns about whether the concept of diplomatic immunity goes too far when it comes to protecting diplomats from prosecution. American driver Anne Sacoolas is currently scheduled for trial surrounding her involvement in the death of UK motorcyclist Harry Dunn, but diplomatic immunity makes it unclear whether she can even technically be charged, much less prosecuted.

2019 Motorcycle Accident Killed UK Teen

19-year-old Harry Dunn was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a car driven by Anne Sacoolas in August 2019. Sacoolas, a US diplomat living in the UK, used claims of diplomatic immunity in order to leave the UK instead of facing immediate prosecution within the country as most other drivers, including tourists, likely would.

What Is Diplomatic Immunity?

Managing tensions between countries is a difficult enough job as it is, and it can be even more challenging if personal missteps, accidentally violating local laws. Diplomatic immunity was created to protect diplomats and their families while navigating the challenges of living in a foreign country and working with leaders from other cultures. It is primarily intended to give diplomats the opportunity to have the sometimes difficult conversations about controversial policies and other challenging situations that come with the territory of their jobs without having to worry about making seemingly small mistakes that could carry steep penalties in the country where they are living in.

By providing this blanket safety net to diplomats and their families, they are able to accomplish their missions without running into situations that may seem petty on a global scale, especially in comparison to the work they are supposed to be doing. Although this largely universal policy is typically only enacted in minor situations where law violations are the result of cultural differences and not particularly harmful, it technically extends to all violations under most circumstances. This can lead to legal and moral challenges in instances that are much more extreme than misunderstandings, such as that of Anne Sacoolas.

Sacoolas Continues to Claim Diplomatic Immunity

Although the UK’s Crown Protection Service told the public earlier this week that the case would reach the local court in January, Sacoolas and her lawyer are continuing to claim diplomatic immunity for the deadly accident. Her lawyer released a statement that confirms this claim, insisting that the Crown Protection Service’s statement is false and that Sacoolas will not be attending.

So far, both the UK and the US have allowed for aspects of diplomatic immunity in ways that tourists would likely not be eligible for. Sacoolas was initially allowed to leave the UK following the accident, and the US has since denied the UK’s request to extradite her after charges filed.

Potential Charges Against Anne Sacoolas

Based on this conflicting information, it is not currently clear whether Sacoolas will attend the hearing or not. Although diplomatic immunity does protect diplomats from prosecution for all violations on paper, exceptions can be made after the fact under certain circumstances. Even intentional murder is technically included within the terms of diplomatic immunity, but most countries would be unlikely to actually follow through with not charging a diplomat under such extreme circumstances against another person. The Crown Protection Service refused to simply ignore the death of a teen.

The Crown Protection Service is currently attempting to charge Anne Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving. Sacoolas is currently scheduled to attend a hearing on January 18, potentially by video instead of traveling to the UK, but her lawyer remains adamant that this will not be happening and the US seems unlikely to immediately respond should she not attend.

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