Our Talented Criminal Team Includes Former County Prosecutors Who Have Handled Countless Vehicular Homicide & Aggravated Manslaughter Cases
When an automobile accident results in death and is caused by recklessness, for example, speeding excessively or driving while intoxicated, a vehicular homicide charge is filed. It is often the case that companion charges of aggravated manslaughter and aggravated assault are also issued. These are all severe crimes that can result in years of imprisonment, whether the situation arises out of alcohol, drugs/cds, or some other claim of reckless conduct. If you were arrested for recklessly causing the death of another person anywhere in New Jersey you certainly need to select the very best attorney you can afford given the penalties you will face if convicted of vehicular homicide or aggravated manslaughter.
We are the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall, one of the largest and most highly credentialed criminal firms in the state. Our team has the skills and know-how to ensure you obtain the best possible defense, including:
- Over 200 years of combined experience defending clients charged with aggravated manslaughter and vehicular homicide stemming from drunk driving, operating under the influence of drugs and other reckless behavior
- 10 lawyers that limit their practice exclusively to criminal defense
- Former county prosecutor that served as Director of Major Crimes, Trial Division and even in Homicide
- Certified criminal trial attorneys
- Offices located throughout New Jersey to conveniently serve clients
If you were in a motor vehicle accident and the crash resulting in a charge for vehicular homicide, we are well-positioned to help you. To speak to an attorney with the knowledge and skill to represent you at an initial appearance, detention hearing successfully, or at any other stage of your case, contact us anytime 24/7 at 877-450-8301.
N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5: Reckless Vehicular Homicide Offense
The criminal charge of vehicular homicide, which is also referred to as death by auto, is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5. An individual violates this law and commits the offense of vehicular homicide if they cause the death of another person by driving a vehicle or vessel recklessly.” There are four (4) ways that an inference of recklessness is created, in other words, where vehicular homicide (or death by auto) has occurred. This presumption is triggered if the accused:
- Fell asleep at the wheel or went 24 consecutive hours without sleep;
- Was driving while intoxicated (e.g., blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher) or under the influence of drugs (e.g., marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription medication, etc.) in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50;
- Was operating a hand-held while driving in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-97.3; or
- Failed to maintain his/her lane in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-88.
The law presumes that an individual is acting recklessly if they engage in any of the four types of conduct just described. It is important to understand, however, that these aren’t the only ways that this violation can take place. In fact, any operation that “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death” such as driving at an exceptionally high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic or other misconduct can form the basis for a criminal complaint or indictment for vehicular homicide.
N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3: Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide Resulting from DWI or DUI
In 2017, New Jersey lawmakers created the potential for strict liability in vehicular homicide cases where certain facts are present. The specifics of this modification are contained at N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3, which makes it a third-degree crime to cause the death of another “by driving a vehicle while intoxicated…or operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs”. There is no requirement that the state proves reckless conduct when the prosecution is sought under this law. Conversely, a plea or finding of guilt results in a third-degree crime as opposed to a second-degree crime.
How Does The Prosecutor Prove Second Degree Vehicular Homicide Charge?
The New Jersey Model Jury Charge for Vehicular Homicide contains three (3) elements that must be established in order for a jury to convict a driver for second degree recklesss vehicular homicide. First, the state must prove that the defendant operated a motor vehicle. Second, he or she must have operated recklessly. Third, the recklessness must have caused the death of another (i.e. the death would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s conduct).
How Does The Prosecutor Prove Third Degree Vehicular Homicide (i.e. Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide)?
There are also three (3) elements of proof in a strict liability case of vehicular homicide and they are: (1) that the defendant was driving a vehicle; (2) he/she caused the death of another person; and (3) the death was caused by driving a vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.
What Is The Difference Between a Vehicular Homicide Charge Under 2C:11-5 Versus 2C:11-5.3?
The two primary distinctions are that one is a third-degree crime and the other a second-degree crime, and there is no requirement that the state establish recklessness. Another important difference is that it is not a defense in a strict liability case “that the decedent contributed to his own death by reckless or negligent conduct or operation of a motor vehicle or vessel.”
Is Vehicular Homicide a Crime of the First Degree or Second Degree?
Vehicular homicide is typically a second-degree crime but is enhanced to a first-degree crime if the violation involves DWI, DUI, Breath Test Refusal in a School Zone.
What Are The Penalties for Vehicular Homicide?
The penalties for second-degree vehicular homicide are 5-10 years in prison and a potential fine of $150,000. First-degree vehicular homicide (i.e. school zone death by auto) carries 10-20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $200,000. The No Early Release Act (“NERA”) also applies in either context, requiring that a defendant serve 85% of his/her term of imprisonment before being eligible for parole.
The penalties for third-degree vehicular homicide include up to 5 years in prison and a potential fine of $15,000. You should also know that the presumption of non-incarceration that typically applies to a third-degree crime does not exist if someone is convicted for violating 2C:11-5.3.
Can Someone Be Convicted for Vehicular Homicide If They Were Negligent In Causing An Accident Resulting in a Death?
No. Negligence is the failure to operate a motor vehicle with due care and is akin to carelessness. In contrast, vehicular homicide requires a much higher showing of recklessness, the conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk of death.
How Doe an Aggravated Manslaughter Charge Come Into Play In a Vehicular Homicide Case?
Aggravated manslaughter is a lesser included offense of Vehicular Homicide. It is common for prosecutors to file both charges when there is evidence of recklessness in a motion vehicle fatality case. The two offenses often get confused or intermingled with labels like vehicular manslaughter and aggravated vehicular manslaughter.
Accomplished NJ Vehicular Homicide Lawyers At Our Firm Are Ready To Defend You
A criminal charge that involves any form of homicide (a.k.a. murder) is just about as serious as it gets in New Jersey. Hiring an attorney who is highly experienced in defending vehicular homicide violations is an absolute necessity given the extreme stakes. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have precisely what you need with decades defending death by auto cases throughout the state. If you would like to speak to a lawyer on our team in a free initial consultation any time of day or night, call 877-450-8301.