Homicide is described broadly as the intentional and unlawful killing of one person by another. Intentional murders, such as first-degree murder, are included, as are unintentional killings, such as voluntary manslaughter.
Vehicular homicide is a form of homicide crime that kills another person. However, instead of a gun or a knife, it includes the use of a motor vehicle as a weapon.
A defendant charged with vehicular homicide may be tried in a court of law for murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide, depending on the laws of the jurisdiction and the facts of the case.
Can I Be Charged With Vehicular Homicide if I Was Too Inebriated to Understand What I Was Doing?
A defendant charged with vehicular homicide may have several defenses open to them. Impairment from alcohol or other drugs is one of these defenses.
In other words, if the defendant had not been under the influence of illegal substances while driving their car, the death of another human being might not have occurred. However, this is only a partial defense to vehicular homicide; it is never a full defense.
If the defendant driver was too drunk to have the intent to murder, they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. However, this defense is rarely used because the impaired driver’s actions leading up to the homicide are often so heinous that their behavior implies an intent to kill under the law.
What Is the Penalty for Vehicle Homicide?
A defendant convicted of felony vehicular homicide faces harsh penalties, just like any other type of criminal homicide, such as the following:
- A prison sentence of up to 20 years or more;
- Loss of the right to possess lethal weapons (for example, convicted felons are not permitted to buy or possess firearms);
- A probationary or parole period;
- Loss of occupational license;
- Significant fines;
- Loss of voting rights in elections; and
- A criminal mark on their permanent record, which can last a lifetime.
Is the Death Penalty Available for Vehicular Homicide?
As with most crimes, the punishment for a convicted defendant will differ based on state laws and the facts of the case.
For example, Alaska, Arizona, and Montana do not have statutes that address vehicular homicide. Instead, all actions that result in the death of another person are classified as general homicide in these states.
The absence of a specific vehicular homicide law may make it easier for the state to convict and impose harsher penalties, such as the death penalty, on a defendant.
In addition, other factors, such as whether an unborn child was killed or injured in the accident and whether the defendant was a first-time offender or had a prior criminal history, may play a role in determining the degree of crime committed and the associated punishment.
In some states, the law recognizes a separate offense called “feticide” or “fetal homicide,” which is the intentional or reckless killing of a fetus. If the defendant was driving under the influence and caused an accident that resulted in the death or injury of an unborn child, they may be charged with this separate offense in addition to other charges related to DUI.
If the defendant is a first-time offender with no prior criminal history, they may receive a less severe punishment. However, someone with a history of DUI or other criminal offenses will face greater consequences. In some cases, prior DUI convictions may result in enhanced penalties, such as longer jail sentences or mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device in the defendant’s vehicle.
Can I Get a DUI Vehicular Homicide on a Non-Motorized Vehicle?
Yes, it is possible to be charged with DUI vehicular homicide while operating a non-motorized vehicle, such as a bicycle or a horse-drawn carriage, depending on the specific laws in your state.
In many states, DUI laws apply to anyone operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, regardless of whether the vehicle is motorized or not. Applicable vehicles can include bicycles, horses, or other non-motorized vehicles that are operated on public roads.
If a person causes the death of another person while driving under the influence, they can be charged with vehicular homicide. In general, the prosecution must prove that the driver was operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and that this caused the death of another person.
For example, In Colorado, DUI laws apply to anyone operating a vehicle, including bicycles, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Can I File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit if a Family Member Was Killed by DUI Vehicular Homicide?
Yes, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit if a family member was killed by DUI vehicular homicide.
Wrongful death laws vary by state, but a wrongful death lawsuit can generally be filed when the negligence, recklessness, or intentional act of another person or entity causes someone’s death. In the case of DUI vehicular homicide, the driver’s negligence or recklessness in operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol may be considered the cause of the death.
The specific requirements for filing a wrongful death lawsuit, such as who may file the lawsuit and what damages can be recovered, also vary by state.
In California, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the surviving spouse, children, or other dependent family members of the deceased person. Damages that may be recovered can include funeral expenses, lost income, and loss of companionship or support. Punitive damages may also be awarded in cases of gross negligence or intentional harm.
In Florida, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the surviving spouse, children, parents, or other blood relatives who were dependent on the deceased person for support or services. Damages that may be recovered can include medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost income, and loss of companionship or support.
In New York, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed by the personal representative of the deceased person’s estate. Damages that may be recovered can include medical expenses, funeral expenses, lost income, and loss of parental or spousal guidance and care.
If you are considering filing a wrongful death lawsuit after a family member was killed by DUI vehicular homicide, consult with an experienced wrongful death attorney in your state. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights, evaluate your case, and represent you in court to seek the compensation you may be entitled to.
What Should I Do If Charged With Vehicular Homicide?
Being charged with vehicular homicide, or any form of homicide, is a serious offense. A conviction can result in harsh penalties such as decades in jail, large fines, and, in some states, the death penalty.
As a result, if you have been accused of vehicular homicide, you should call a local DUI/DWI attorney right away.
An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to prepare your case, represent you in court, discuss possible penalties, and decide whether any defenses apply to your case.
A lawyer can also assist you in protecting your rights as a defendant and attempting to lessen your sentence. Use LegalMatch to find a lawyer for your case today.