North Carolina Vehicular Manslaughter Attorneys

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 What Is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the illegal killing of a human being perpetrated without the intention to kill. The mitigating circumstances encircling the killing make it not a murder offense.

Murder is the killing of a human being done with the intent to kill. In North Carolina, there are three kinds of manslaughter charges: involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

What Is the Difference between Manslaughter and Murder?

Manslaughter and murder are distinct when resolving the defendant’s state of mind. When they kill, the defendant’s state of mind specifies the difference between murder and manslaughter. Murder usually needs malice, premeditation, and planning. Manslaughter is the illegal killing of a human being without malice but with conscious disregard for human life or recklessness or criminal negligence.

Murder is usually mitigated to manslaughter because of mitigating factors and circumstances that surround the killing.

Two Types of Manslaughter

There are two primary types of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary Manslaughter
A voluntary manslaughter is an act of killing that would usually be characterized as murder, but the killing was committed in reaction to an acceptable provocation. If adequate provocation resulted in the killing, the criminal charges are reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter.
Adequate provocation is sufficient to incite an average person to be suddenly and intensely passionate.

Courts typically accept these types of adequate provocation:

  • Conduct or act enough to deprive a reasonable individual of self-control
  • The provocation provoked the defendant
  • The time between the provocation and the actual killing cannot be long enough for a reasonable individual to cool off
  • The defendant never cooled off

Involuntary Manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is when a person unintentionally kills another individual due to a lack of care.

Involuntary manslaughter typically happens on two occasions:

  • Where there is a death attributed to recklessness or criminal negligence
  • From an illegal act that is a misdemeanor or a low-level felony

For example, in vehicular manslaughter, death ensues during a traffic violation such as driving under the influence.

What Is Vehicular Manslaughter?

In general, vehicular manslaughter is the unintentional death of another individual committed by illegal driving. Illegal driving can be anything from speeding to drunk driving.

Is Vehicular Manslaughter the Same as Vehicular Homicide?

Like many legal queries, it depends and can be disjointed. In most jurisdictions, statutes split vehicular manslaughter from vehicle homicide through the component of criminal intent. A homicide charge requires that the state establish premeditation and intent, while the former only involves negligence or reckless behavior to establish.

Many states may merge the two under the same category, often called vehicular homicide, despite the many differences. The states with this approach often use a degree system, with the more powerful charges being higher degrees with more stringent potential punishments.

Except for Alaska, Arizona, and Montana, all states have statutes explicitly handling deaths caused while operating a vehicle. Instead, a defendant may be charged with homicide/murder or manslaughter in these states. In certain instances, a vehicular manslaughter charge may also be charged as a negligent homicide.

Is Vehicular Manslaughter a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the state and the facts. Many states do not prosecute crimes based on felony/misdemeanor grounds but through degrees. For instance, a crime that would warrant a felony classification in some states may be classified as a first or second-degree criminal offense in others. Ultimately, how vehicular manslaughter is charged comes down to the exact facts of each incident, including what criminal act was perpetrated to cause the wreck and how reckless or unsafe it was.

If a driver causes an accident while driving just over the speed limit, they will usually face smaller charges or retribution than if they had caused one while driving drunk. The less serious second-degree charge is used for all other non-homicide violations. The former is similar to a felony and the latter to a misdemeanor.

What Are the Possible Punishments for Vehicular Manslaughter?

A potential sentence for someone convicted of vehicular manslaughter rides on the state but can include penalties, loss of driving rights, probation, and prison time. These penalties may be enhanced due to a finding of gross negligence or if the convicted individual has a prior criminal record (particularly any driving-related charges/convictions). Intoxication also plays a role in deciding discipline.

Are There Defenses to a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge?

Most charges demand that a prosecutor present proof to meet a two-pronged approach to criminal guilt. These are the actus reus, the illegal action, and mens rea, which is the individual’s intent/state of mind that the action is improper. Many legal defenses aim to discredit one of these factors, destroying a critical component of the criminal charge.

To help offset actus reus, a defendant can prove that the deceased individual also committed an unlawful or negligent act, such as a pedestrian jaywalking in a humming street when signs banned such activity. For mens rea, the accused may demonstrate that they were drugged or unintentionally consumed an unlawful or intoxicating substance. This is known as involuntary intoxication. Some defenses will not spread to all vehicular manslaughter/homicide cases. The required level of intent can vary from case to case.

How Is Vehicular Manslaughter Defined in North Carolina?

North Carolina defines vehicular homicide, known as death by vehicle in the state, as killing a human being while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The crime of death by vehicle also includes any homicide caused by a breach of state or local driving regulations.

What Are Some Examples of Criminal Activity That Can Lead to a Death by Vehicle in North Carolina?

A death that is caused by operating a motor vehicle can be a result of:

Is Vehicular Homicide in North Carolina a Misdemeanor or Felony?

Vehicular homicide can be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the events of the case. It is a felony when the homicide is a result of a DUI, and it is a misdemeanor when the homicide is the result of violating another driving rule.

What Is the Penalty for Vehicular Manslaughter in North Carolina?

The penalty that a person will encounter for committing death by vehicle hinges on whether the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony. It also hinges on if the perpetrator has committed this offense in the past.

If the death by vehicle is a misdemeanor, then the offense is a Class A1 misdemeanor. The penalty for this crime is 1 to 60 days in prison and a fine at an amount set by the magistrate.
Felony death by vehicle crime is a Class D felony, disciplined by a 51 to 64 months prison sentence. If the defendant has already been convicted of committing a felony death by vehicle, the ensuing offense is a Class B2 felony.

The penalty for a Class B2 felony in North Carolina is 125 to 157 months in prison. Still, a defendant may face a more extended sentence depending on how many earlier convictions they have amassed before being convicted.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you are accused of causing a homicide while driving, you will likely need to get some help in defending yourself. Contact a North Carolina criminal attorney immediately to fight your vehicular homicide charge.

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