Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide Defense Lawyers in Burlington County
The purpose of public safety laws in New Jersey are to protect lives on public road and waterways. As such, the driving while intoxicated (DWI) law is intended to protect drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. Unquestionably, a drunk driver may injure or kill people with a motorized vehicle on land or water, although these accidents almost never involve drivers who purposefully set out to hurt someone. Despite the lack of intent on the part of drivers, New Jersey’s drunk driving fatalities constitute approximately 25% of all road deaths in the state. Taking a tough stance on vehicular homicide caused by intoxicated driving, in 2017, New Jersey changed the laws regarding accidents resulting in death caused by people driving while under the influence. The state now imposes strict liability on drunk or drugged drivers involved in fatal accidents. The implementation of this new offense is known as Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide in New Jersey, which is laid out in the statute NJSA 2C:11-5.3. Anyone charged with this offense is facing severe penalties and collateral consequences if convicted.
If you or someone close to you is facing strict liability vehicular homicide charges in Burlington County, you can count on the dedicated representation of the criminal defense attorneys at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay. With extensive background in criminal law and a practice focused entirely on criminal and DWI defense, our attorneys are prepared to investigate and contest the state’s accusations against you. We fight tooth and nail for clients charged with strict liability vehicular homicide resulting from DUI, as well as eluding police, death by auto, leaving the scene of an accident involving death, assault by auto, and driving under the influence of drugs causing an accident. With our local office in Marlton, our Burlington County criminal defense firm represents clients whose cases arise in every town in the area, including in Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, New Hanover, Pemberton, Willingboro, Moorestown, and Delran. To receive an absolutely free and confidential consultation, contact us at 609-850-8284 today. Read on to learn more about strict liability vehicular homicide charges arising from driving while intoxicated or driving impaired by a controlled dangerous substances.
Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide Charge NJ
N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3 sets forth three elements for proving strict liability homicide. The state must show that the accused drove a vehicle, while intoxicated or drugged, and caused another’s death. The law eliminates the state’s burden to prove the driver’s reckless operation of a vehicle as a separate element. In other words, a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeding the legal limit of .08% who causes a fatal accident faces strict liability vehicular homicide just for violating the drunk driving laws, not with the state’s burden to prove they were driving unsafely. In addition, a conviction requires the state to prove the vehicle operation as the cause of the accident. Specifically, a prosecutor must show that but for the accused’s driving a vehicle, the fatality would not have happened.
Even though strict liability does not require proof of recklessness, the accused and the fatality must relate. A drunk driver who causes an accident may not be convicted for violating N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3 when another’s conduct is the sole cause of the fatality. Neither can the fatality be too remotely related to the accused’s driving a vehicle to attach liability to them. So, for example, a pedestrian walking by an accident scene dying of gunshot wounds from a drive-by shooting or a drug overdose may be too remote. Even if the drunk driver caused the accident, they are not liable for a nearby crime resulting in a fatality. An intervening third party’s behavior caused the victim’s death, which removes the liability link between the accused and the fatality.
Meaning of Strict Liability for Fatal Accidents Caused by DUI
Strict liability means the intoxicated driver is responsible with proof that they drove a vehicle while intoxicated, which led to the loss of life. They are liable even if the fatal accident was not their fault or the victim was responsible in part for their demise. The distinction between strict liability crimes and others is the element of intent or knowledge. A prosecutor does not have to prove the defendant knew they were doing something unlawful for a strict liability criminal conviction.
Distinction between New Jersey Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide and Death by Auto
Before the recent strict liability statute, an accused under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the scene of a fatal accident faced death by auto and possibly aggravated assault charges, depending on what happened. In either death by auto or aggravated assault, the state must prove that the driver’s reckless actions caused the fatality to convict an accused. The prosecution may take drugs or alcohol into consideration in determining recklessness, and driving while intoxicated qualifies as inferred evidence of recklessness. However, intoxication alone is not enough to prove the drunk or drugged driver caused the fatality.
What is the Penalty for a Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide Offense in New Jersey?
As a third degree crime, a strict liability vehicular homicide conviction results in a three to five year prison sentence and a maximum fine of $15,000.00. However, the statute further removes the presumption of non-incarceration for first-time offenders charged with third or fourth degree crimes found in N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(e). That section gives sentencing judges authority to impose a sentence other than imprisonment for first-time offenders unless the offense involves certain behaviors considered aggravating factors or the conviction is for eluding or certain other crimes. That means a prison sentence is nearly inevitable if someone is found guilty of a violation of NJ state’s strict liability vehicular homicide law.
Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide can be Charged with Other Offenses
N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.3 explicitly allows other charges and convictions if the evidence supports other crimes. Thus, an individual accused of strict liability vehicular homicide may face a host of criminal charges arising from one incident. Worse yet, multiple fatalities or injuries due to the accident may result in consecutive prison terms. That means that the driver responsible for injuries and deaths may serve back-to-back separate sentences, one for each vehicular homicide and one for each aggravated assault.
A person may also be convicted of other traffic and criminal offenses in a case involving DWI that causes an accident death. For instance, violating NJSA 39:4-50 for a DWI alone has severe financial and time-consuming consequences. A drunk or drugged driving conviction can mean jail time, community service, driving with an ignition interlock device, spending hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center, and paying fines, fees, and surcharges in the thousands. The sentence depends on the BAC and prior DWI history.
In addition, other criminal charges may apply. For example, a driver may face third degree criminal charges without the presumption of non-imprisonment when they intentionally leave the scene of a fatal accident. And when they dodge police, they may be convicted of eluding. Plus, death by auto or assault by auto can occur in these situations as well. All of these crimes are indictable in nature and punishable by harsh sentences.
Mount Laurel Strict Liability Vehicular Homicide Attorney can Help
If the state accuses you of strict liability vehicular homicide, you have a challenging but not impossible battle ahead. While it is true that proof of intoxication is enough for a strict liability conviction, the fatality must still relate to intoxicated driving and the intoxicated must be established with valid evidence. The state must still prove intoxication to substantiate the allegations, and in many cases, we can challenge the intoxication evidence. The charges may be dropped or changed to lower-level offenses if successful. Our criminal law firm defends clients for strict liability vehicular homicide and associated DUI charges, so we know how to investigate the circumstances of your accident, testing, questioning and arrest procedures, and find potential avenues to challenge the case against you.
If you have been arrested and charged with strict liability vehicular homicide in Burlington County towns such as Palmyra, Tabernacle, Medford, Lumberton, Burlington Township, Maple Shade, Evesham, Bass River, or Florence, our team can assist you. Call 609-850-8284 to speak with an attorney free of charge and get a head start on defending your DWI accident with fatality case.
Our phones are answered 24 hours a day. We are available weekdays during business hours. We also meet with clients on evenings and weekends by request. We have four office locations conveniently located in Jersey City, Edison, Middletown, Cranford, Burlington, and Hamilton. All major credit cards are accepted.
525 Highway 73, Suite 104, Marlton, New Jersey 08053 Phone: 609-850-8284 By Appointment Only
100 Horizon Center Boulevard, Hamilton, New Jersey, 08691 By Appointment Only
Point Pleasant Office
3828 River Road,
Suite A, Point Pleasant,
New Jersey 08742
By Appointment Only
180 Kings Highway, Middletown Township, New Jersey 07748 By Appointment Only