The crime of vehicular homicide takes place when a person is killed by a car or another vehicle. Because it is a form of homicide, this crime is obviously very serious, and the penalties that can be issued as a result of a successful conviction can be very severe, including lengthy prison terms.
In many circumstances, the length of a prison term that is imposed for a conviction of vehicular homicide may be decreased or increased depending on the circumstances. However, because most penalties are incredibly severe, it is useful to know the laws of your state, as well as the defense strategies that might be available to you if you find yourself faced with a vehicular homicide charge.
In Massachusetts, vehicular homicide or homicide by motor vehicle is covered by Section 24G of Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Vehicular Homicide Examples
Massachusetts regards carelessness or recklessness of the driver to be enough to support a vehicular homicide charge. Reckless conduct is defined in the statute is conduct that is likely to result into substantial harm. Thus, if the driver was carelessly violating traffic rules and this resulted in an accident that caused the death of a pedestrian or passenger of one of the vehicles involved in the accident, then the driver can be charged with vehicular homicide. This may be regarded as a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances.
When there is negligence that is far more than just "simple" or ordinary negligence, the offense may be considered to be a felony. For instance, if driver has a high blood alcohol level, has been using illegal drugs, or traveled on the wrong side of the road, he or she would be guilty of criminal negligence and may be charged with vehicular homicide as a felony. It is quite common for crimes of vehicular homicide to be associated with DUI or driving while intoxicated charges, as driving under the influence can often lead to negligence on the road.
One important thing to recognize is that an intent to kill is not required for a successful conviction. To be convicted of a crime of vehicular homicide, the prosecution need only prove that the driver was operating a motor vehicle in a reckless way, and his or her actions lead to a fatality - there is no need to prove intent.
In Massachusetts, if the killing of a person was the result of reckless driving of the defendant but there was no intention to kill, this would be considered as involuntary manslaughter.This is covered under Section 13 of Chapter 265of the Massachusetts General Laws.
Frequently, the extent of the dangerous circumstances that may have been created as a result of the driver's actions will determine whether they are charged with simple or aggravated vehicular homicide. Aggravated felonies will typically lead to more significant penalties.
Vehicular Homicide Punishment
In Massachusetts, the penalties for killing a person with a motor vehicle are as follows:
- Involuntary manslaughter - the penalties for this offense is possible victim restitution, up to 20 years in a state prison, and fines
- Felony vehicular homicide - 2.5 years to 15 years in jail or state prison, revocation of driver's license for 15 years, and fines
- Misdemeanor vehicular homicide - 30 days to 2.5 years in jail or state prison, revocation of driver's license for 15 years, and fines
Vehicular Homicide Defenses
As with most crimes, it's worth noting that there are some defenses available in cases that involve vehicular homicide. The most common defense strategies generally include an attempt to exclude incriminating evidence from the record, such as reckless conduct that might have amounted to the manslaughter. For instance:
- If the defending lawyer can have the evidence that shows the blood alcohol level of the defendant removed from the court, then the prosecution might lose a large basis of their case and reduce the penalties that are given to the defendant. Sometimes, this can happen when the law enforcement officials involved in a case did not comply with the correct procedures established for collecting evidence.
- A defendant in a vehicular homicide case might also argue that the intoxication that they were experiencing was not the cause of the accident that resulted in defense. In other words, in this defense, the defendant argued that the accident was not caused by their negligence or behavior, but instead by outside factors, such as a problem with the car.
- In some instances, a defendant might also attempt to lower his or her penalties in a case of vehicular homicide by indicating that the reckless driving that they engaged in, or the apparent intoxication they showed behind the wheel was not a result of drugs or alcohol, but instead the result of a pre-existing medical condition that might undermine a prosecutor's claim that the defendant was acting recklessly as a result of their own choices.
Note that four elements are needed for a successful conviction of a felony vehicular homicide:
- The defendant was the one driving the motor vehicle.
- The defendant was on a road where the general public have a right to be there.
- The defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was driving recklessly.
- The defendant caused the death of another human being.
What to Do If You Are Charged
As with any crime, the best step to take if you are charged with vehicular homicide is to speak to an expert attorney who has experience dealing with cases similar to your own. The sooner you begin talking about possible defenses, the better.