Whether you mean to hurt anyone or not, reckless driving is always risky. The chances of hurting yourself and others are high, given that a motor vehicle can cause incredible damage when the driver is out of control; it can even maim or kill someone. When someone does die from a speeding driver, one driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled dangerous substance, or distracted by texting, New Jersey calls it death by auto, vehicular homicide, or aggravated manslaughter. The core component of vehicular homicide is the offender’s placing others’ lives in danger without justification. When a person knows they are driving under conditions that threaten others on the road and their reckless driving kills someone, they commit a grave crime. The punishment for the crime is severe, and a convicted defendant is likely to serve a lengthy prison sentence.
If you face a death by auto charge after a motor vehicle accident in Burlington County or elsewhere in New Jersey, you need legal advice and guidance. Since the punishment is harsh, you want to discuss your options with an experienced vehicular homicide lawyer right away. The attorneys at Proetta, Oliver & Fay offer knowledge, dedication to criminal law in its totality, and personalized client attention with cultivated relationships based on trust and communication. You want a legal professional who will investigate your case and defense just as extensively as the state can be expected to do when seeking to convict you. Firm Partner and Former New Jersey Deputy Attorney General, William C. Fay, IV, dedicated years to criminal law practice at the Attorney General’s Office in Trenton. He puts this unique, highly valuable insight to work for his clients and never shies away from going toe-to-toe with the state during trial litigation. Contact our local office in Marlton and take advantage of a free consultation. You can call 609-850-8284 or reach us online 24/7 to find the counsel and protection you need now.
Necessary Elements for a Vehicular Homicide Conviction – N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5
To convict a defendant, the state prosecutor must prove that they drove a motor vehicle recklessly, without regard for the risk to other drivers’ or pedestrians’ lives, ultimately causing the death of someone else.
Death by Auto while Driving under the Influence
If a drunk driver causes an accident that results in death, a prosecutor can make a good case by inference that the accused drove recklessly. When an intoxicated driver turns on the ignition and pulls their vehicle onto the road, they know they are drunk and how that affects their driving. Alcohol distorts perception and coordination so that a driver may believe they can handle a motor vehicle. However, the reality is that they cannot drive safely. They risk crashing when they speed and cannot respond to the road conditions, such as another driver’s sudden lane change that forces quick reaction time to brake and avoid a collision. Highly intoxicated drivers may not realize they are veering into adjacent lanes or driving at erratic speeds. And yet, any driver knows or should know that they cannot see, think, or drive straight while under the influence of alcohol. Knowing that they are driving impaired, they consciously disregard the risk to others by operating a vehicle in such a condition.
Vehicular Homicide by Distracted Driving
Similarly, a prosecutor can persuade a jury that a driver who causes a fatal accident after driving a vehicle with a cell phone in their hands drove recklessly without care or regard for the risks inherent in inattentive driving. Certain routine behaviors make drivers notice that they are driving impaired when they drink, talk on their phone, lack sleep, or move into another’s lane. For example, a driver distracted by talking on the phone may hear a car behind them beep the horn when they drive too slowly or fail to move when a stoplight turns green. Distracted driving can mean texting on the phone, which limits a driver’s ability to focus on the road. While oblivious, they might not notice and respond to unexpected events, like a speeding vehicle changing lanes, traffic halting suddenly, or obstructions in the road, including pedestrians crossing.
Sleep Deprived Drivers Causing Death by Motor Vehicle
Sleep-deprived drivers also lack the alertness and responsiveness to deal with the unpredictable road conditions drivers face daily. Distracted, drunk, or sleepy drivers typically fail to maintain their lane and drift into other cars or cause other vehicles to crash into other cars to avoid getting hit by a vehicle encroaching in their lane. While most drivers take risks when they drive, even drift into adjacent lanes, they do not typically drive with extreme reckless abandon. The distinction between everyday risks, like speeding up to pass another vehicle, and extraordinary risks that raise the odds of an accident, like texting and driving, is the degree of recklessness.
Degrees of New Jersey Vehicular Homicide Crimes and Penalties
The state of New Jersey punishes gross recklessness that leads to another’s death with second degree crime penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and high fines. Death by auto convictions come with a five (5) to ten (10) year prison term and a presumption that the convicted defendant will go to prison. Unless a skillful criminal defense attorney can rebut the presumption with compelling reasons for not incarcerating their client, a convicted defendant can expect to serve time in prison. Death by auto under N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5 comes with a minimum sentence of three years to one half or one-third of the sentence, whichever is greater, which means five years, if the convicted defendant refused a breathalyzer test, drove on a suspended license, or committed a DUI or DWI.
On the other hand, vehicular homicide may be a first-degree crime if a drunk driver causes an accident in a school zone or on or near school property, regardless of the driver’s awareness that they were on or near school property. A first degree criminal conviction results in a potential sentence of ten (10) to twenty (20) years and a minimum prison sentence of three years or one-third to one-half the sentence, whichever is greater. A first degree crime also comes with a presumption of incarceration.
However, regardless of whether the crime is a first or second degree offense, the No Early Release Act (NERA) applies to either. NERA prohibits early release by parole before a prisoner serves 85% of their term. Not only that, but a convicted driver also pays maximum fines of $150,000.00 for a second degree crime or $200,000.00 for a first-degree offense in addition to a prison sentence, long license suspension, and a five-year driving restriction.
Help Available Now from an Experienced Vehicular Homicide Attorney in Burlington County, NJ
You may have other options to resolve your case before trial, so speak to a qualified criminal defense attorney about your vehicular homicide, death by auto, or aggravated manslaughter charges. You may learn that the police had insufficient reasons or probable cause to test your breath or blood after the accident once you tell your story to your attorney and answer their questions. When the police do not follow the law, the evidence they gather may be tainted and therefore excluded from being used against you at a trial. Moreover, breathalyzer tests may yield unreliable results under certain conditions. And if the test administration is faulty or an officer failed to inform you of the consequences of a breathalyzer refusal, the officer may have infringed upon your constitutional rights. And finally, causes for the accident may be other than intoxication, sleeplessness, or distraction but another intervening cause, such as a medical or environmental condition.
Call the law office of Proetta, Oliver & Fay at 609-850-8284 and schedule your no-cost, confidential consultation with Mr. Fay. You can be assisted at anytime of the day or night, so when the law knocks on your door with fear-instilling consequences, our criminal defense team is a phone call away.
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