Fatalities in traffic accidents occur every day. However, not all result in criminal charges against the at-fault driver. However, a driver may be charged with vehicular manslaughter if it is shown that he or she caused the death of someone through extreme negligence or recklessness.
Most states have vehicular manslaughter laws. A few rely on general laws for negligent homicide to guide prosecution of deaths resulting from the dangerous operation of a vehicle.
When it is Vehicular Manslaughter?
In most states, in order to bring charges of murder against someone, you must prove that there was an intent to kill. However, manslaughter charges can be filed without the intent to kill. An individual can be convicted of vehicular manslaughter if it can be proven that:
- The driver was grossly negligent or reckless in operating their vehicle
- The driver’s reckless or negligent behavior resulted in the fatality.
In order to get a conviction, the prosecution must prove negligence beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be proven in a variety of ways. Some common signs of negligence include:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Distracted driving e.g. typing or reading text messages while driving
- Running a red light
- Not taking heed of warnings to avoid driving while on prescription medication
The defendant may be charged with aggravated or simple vehicular manslaughter. This depends on the extent of danger that their negligent or reckless actions created. A conviction of aggravated vehicular manslaughter will attract much stiffer penalties.
If it is shown that the driver was simply negligent, they may not be charged with vehicular manslaughter e.g. if the driver was going only five miles over the speed limit, the driver is likely to only be charged with a misdemeanor even if the accident resulted in a fatality.
It should be noted that even if the driver is not charged with the crime of vehicular manslaughter, the victim’s family may be entitled to file a civil claim for wrongful death.
Defending against vehicular manslaughter charges
The prosecutor doesn’t have to show that the defendant had intent to kill in order to get a conviction. However, they have to prove negligence or recklessness. Defendants can argue that other factors contributed to the accident e.g. actions by other drivers, poor weather or road conditions.
If a lab test was used to determine drug or alcohol levels in the defendant, the defendant may argue against the accuracy of the tests.
If you or someone you know is facing vehicular manslaughter charges, get in touch with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible and begin to build your defense.