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Vehicular homicide (also known as vehicular manslaughter) in most states in the United States, is a crime. In general, it involves death that results from the negligent operation of a vehicle, or more so a result from driving while committing an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony. In the Model Penal Code there is no separate category of vehicular homicide, and vehicular homicides that involve negligence. Both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide.12 It can be compared to the offense of dangerous driving causing death in other countries.
All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties. In states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations.3
The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist, such as a pedestrian, cyclist, another motorist, or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender.4
There are proposals in other countries to adopt the single nomenclature of "vehicular homicide" as it is used in the United States.
A study by professors at Dartmouth College and Harvard University found that those convicted of vehicular homicide are given, on average, shorter sentences than those found guilty of other types of homicide. The study found that the gender of the offender does not statistically affect the length of the sentence, but the race does. The identity of the victim is a more important predictor of sentencing length, with longer sentences given to offenders in cases where the victim was female and/or had no violent criminal record.4
In the United Kingdom, there is no offense of "vehicular homicide". The offenses are "causing death by dangerous driving" and "causing death by careless driving while unfit through alcohol/over prescribed limit", under the Road Traffic Act 1988. This act removed the offense of "reckless driving" as the concept of recklessness in law requires a mens rea that was often difficult to prove in court. Additional offenses connected to fatal road collisions were enacted in the Road Safety Act 2006 but have yet to be brought into force. Legal reformists have pressed for the adoption of a categorization more akin to that of the United States. C. M. V. Clarkson, an advocate of a vehicular homicide offense, opines that while people's perceptions are that death resulting from a motor vehicle is in a different "family" to other killings, "in terms of fault there can be little distinction between those who kill through the dangerous operation of their cars and those who kill with machines, trains, etc.".67
The definition and penalties of vehicular manslaughter vary by state.
In the state of California, depending on the degree of recklessness and whether alcohol was involved, a person could be charged with progressively more serious offenses: vehicular manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or second-degree murder. In any of these cases, the prosecution must prove that the driver committed some wrongful act (which could be a felony, a misdemeanor, an infraction, or a lawful act that might cause death) and that the wrongful act caused the collision and the death of the victim. Murder charges are usually reserved for the most egregious cases, such as a convicted DUI offender who drives recklessly while intoxicated and thereby causes a fatal collision.
In the state of Georgia, vehicular homicide is more properly known as homicide by vehicle. It is defined, by statute, as the unlawful killing of another person using a vehicle. To be guilty of the offense, the perpetrator does not have to have an intent to kill, malice aforethought, or premeditation.8
There are two degrees of vehicular homicide:
- First degree homicide by vehicle
- This is a felony, that upon conviction will result in a sentence of between 3 and 15 years of imprisonment (or between 5 and 20 years for habitual violators), with no parole for at least 1 year. A homicide is first degree homicide by vehicle if the driver "unlawfully met or overtook a school bus; unlawfully failed to stop after a collision; was driving recklessly; was driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; failed to stop for, or otherwise was attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer; or had previously been declared a habitual violator".8
- Second degree homicide by vehicle
- This is a misdemeanor, that upon conviction will result in a sentence of up to 1 year (which may be suspended) or a fine of up to US$1,000 (or both). Second degree homicide by vehicle encompasses all other homicides by vehicle, involving any other violation of the laws governing motor vehicles, that are not classed as first degree homicides.8
In the state of Louisiana, vehicular homicide is defined as the killing of a human being while operating a motor vehicle, or other means of conveyance, under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances. The minimum punishment is a fine of at least $2,000 (not more than $15,000), and 5–30 years in prison.
In the state of Minnesota, vehicular homicide is one of the six levels of criminal vehicular operation, and is defined as causing the death of a person, that does not constitute murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, or in a negligent manner while in violation of the driving while intoxicated law, or where the driver flees the scene in violation of the felony fleeing law.5 Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence.9
Vehicular homicide in Washington state, is governed by RCW 46.61.520 Vehicular homicide—Penalty.10
- (1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:
- a While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or
- b In a reckless manner; or
- c With disregard for the safety of others.
- (2) Vehicular homicide is a class A felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that, for a conviction under subsection (1)(a) of this section, an additional two years shall be added to the sentence for each prior offence as defined in RCW 46.61.5055.
- dangerous driving causing death
- criminal negligence causing death
- failure to stop for police causing death
- street racing causing death
- impaired driving causing death
- hit and run driving causing death
The maximum penalty, for dangerous driving causing death, absent any of the remaining 5 elements mentioned above, is 14 years' imprisonment. The maximum penalty is otherwise life imprisonment. Anyone sentenced to life imprisonment, for a Criminal Code driving offence, is eligible to apply for parole after serving 7 years, but there is no guarantee of parole.
- Craig MacTavish, former NHL Hockey player11
- Dany Heatley, current NHL Hockey player12
- Dwayne Goodrich, former Dallas Cowboys football player13
- Charles E. Smith, basketball player for Georgetown University and Boston Celtics14
- Lane Garrison, television actor in Prison Break15
- Rebecca Gayheart, television and movie actress. Wife of Grey's Anatomy actor, Eric Dane.
- Amy Locane, television and movie actress.
- Todd Harrell, bassist of 3 Doors Down.
- John M. Scheb II and John Malcolm Scheb (2001). An Introduction to the American Legal System. Thomson Delmar Learning. p. 120. ISBN 0-7668-2759-3.
- Michael Hooper, M. A. Dupont-Morales, and Judy H. Schmidt (2001). Handbook of Criminal Justice Administration. Marcel Dekker. p. 177. ISBN 0-8247-0418-5.
- "The Facts: Vehicular Homicide and the Impaired Driver". United States Department of Transportation. Retrieved 2009-02-10.
- Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce (April 2000). "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance" (dead link – Scholar search). NBER Working Paper 7676.
- James Cleary and Joseph Cox. "A Brief Overview of Minnesota’s DWI Laws: Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A and Related Laws" (PDF). Minnesota Impaired Driving Facts Report. Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
- "c.52 §1". Road Traffic Act 1988. Office of Public Sector Information. 1988.
- C.M.V. Clarkson (2000). "Context and culpability in involuntary manslaughter: Principle or instinct?". In Andrew Ashworth and Barry Mitchell. Rethinking English Homicide Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 148–150,164. ISBN 0-19-829915-X.
- Allen M. Trapp, Jr., P.C. (2004). "Vehicular Homicide Laws".
- "609.21 Criminal Vehicular Homicide and Injury". Office of the Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota. 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-10.
- MacTavish is free New York Times. May 15, 2985. Accessed August 27, 2007.
- Dany Heatley avoids jail time CBC Sports. February 4, 2005. Accessed August 27, 2007.
- Ex-Cowboys player sentenced to prison for hit-and-run deaths - Sports - Brief Article Jet. September 8, 2003. Accessed August 27, 2007.
- Smith, a former Celtic, gets a split verdict, abstract The New York Times. March 13, 1992. Accessed August 27, 2007.
- Fox News August 2, 2007.
- Washington State Vehicular Homicide Law
- California State Vehicular Homicide Law
- California Vehicular Manslaughter vs. Homicide
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Penalties for Drunk Driving Vehicular Homicide