Vehicular manslaughter is a crime in which the driver of a car, while driving illegally, causes the death of someone else. What amounts to illegal driving is explored further below.
This crime differs from slightly from vehicular homicide, a crime in which the driver causes the death of a victim due to gross negligence while driving, or due to murderous intent. Most states in the U.S. (except for Alaska, Arizona and Montana) have vehicular homicide statutes, allowing for easier conviction of offenders, and more severe penalties.
In states that do not have vehicular homicide laws, however, offenders can still be charged under manslaughter statutes.
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Is Vehicular Manslaughter Considered a Misdemeanor or a Felony?
This depends upon the nature of the illegal driving which the driver was committing when they caused the death of the victim. It’s a question of degree. If the driver was committing a minor speeding offense, they are more likely to be charged with only a misdemeanor. However, if they were driving while intoxicated, they are more likely to be charged with a felony. Penalties regarding vehicular manslaughter can also vary by state.
What are the Elements of Vehicular Manslaughter?
Although the statutes dealing with vehicular manslaughter do vary by state, the general elements are that:
The offending driver caused the death of another driver, a passenger (in the driver’s car or in another car), a cyclist or a pedestrian while:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
- Driving recklessly;
- Driving with gross negligence; and/or
- Exceeding the speed limit while driving.
Consequences for Vehicular Manslaughter
Potential consequences upon conviction of this crime include: prison time, fines and loss of driving privileges. Penalty will vary according to whether the offending driver is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, and upon several other factors pertaining to the driver, including:
- Prior convictions of the accused;
- Whether accused is currently on parole/probation;
- Whether the crime was committed while intoxicated; and/or
- Degree of media attention.
Are there any Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter?
Involuntary intoxication may be a defense to a charge of vehicular manslaughter. Additionally, if the driver is charged with driving negligently, they may be able to attribute some of the fault to another driver, if they were also driving negligently. This is called contributory negligence.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
If you are charged with vehicular manslaughter, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
There are many variations in states’ laws that pertain to vehicular manslaughter, and related crimes, and you will need an attorney from your state to help with this. Your lawyer can help you navigate the legal system, including your particular state’s law on this crime, and give you a fair defense in court.