Assault by auto, also known as vehicular assault, is a very serious criminal offense in New Jersey and is sadly an all too common event. However, what exactly is the crime of vehicular homicide needs to be explained and clarified because even though most people are familiar with the name, they do not know what it entails. What is the legal definition of vehicular homicide, what does the state have to prove to convict a person of vehicular homicide, and what are the consequence you might face? These are all questions that you will have to face if you have ben charged with vehicular homicide. The penalties and prison time can range from 10 years to upwards of $150,000, that is why if you have been charged with vehicular homicide you should contact an attorney immediately.
When the potential consequences are this severe, it’s critically important to take immediate legal action. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our dedicated criminal defense attorneys bring over four decades of practical experience to every case we work on. We will guide you through each step of the criminal justice process, vigorously defend your Constitutional rights, and build a sophisticated, nuanced defense strategy with the aim of having your charges reduced or dismissed completely.
What is Vehicular Homicide in Atlantic County?
The New Jersey statute pertaining to vehicular homicide is (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5) and provides in part: Criminal homicide constitutes vehicular homicide when it is caused by driving a vehicle (or vessel) recklessly.
- Criminal homicide constitutes vehicular homicide when it is caused by driving a vehicle or vessel recklessly. Proof that the defendant fell asleep while driving or was driving after having been without sleep for a period in excess of 24 consecutive hours may give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly. Proof that the defendant was driving while intoxicated in violation of R.S. 39:4-50 or was operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs in violation of section 3 of P.L. 1952, c. 157 shall give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly. Nothing in this section shall be construed to in any way limit the conduct or conditions that may be found to constitute driving a vehicle or vessel recklessly.
In order to understand how this offense is graded and penalized, it’s important to understand the unique terminology used by New Jersey’s criminal courts. While most states divide crimes into misdemeanors, which are less serious, and felonies, which are more serious, New Jersey uses a slightly different system. In Atlantic City, misdemeanors are divided into two categories: disorderly persons offenses (DP offenses), and petty disorderly persons offenses (petty DP offenses). While DP and petty DP offenses are classified as offenses rather than crimes, the difference for the defendant is purely technical, as a conviction will still result in fines, incarceration and/or probation, as well as the creation of a criminal record. More serious offenses are called and classified as crimes, which are equivalent to felonies in other states.
What Must the State Prove?
In order for you to find the defendant guilty of this crime, the State must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That the defendant was driving a vehicle [or vessel];
- That the defendant caused the death of (name victim); and
- That the defendant caused such death by driving the vehicle [or vessel] recklessly.
The state will have to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt that the a person died from medical complications that resulted from injuries caused by the defendant’s actions. The state will also have to prove that you acted recklessly. Under New Jersey law, a person acts recklessly when they consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death will result from their conduct. Under the statute, the risk that they are referring to, must be of such a nature and degree that, considering the nature and purpose of the defendant’s conduct and the circumstances known to them, or involves a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the defendant’s situation.
As you can imagine, going through a full criminal trial can be an intimidating experience. When you consider how severe the consequences are not prepared for the seasoned prosecutor, you may want to consider hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What Kind of Driving is Considered “Reckless” as a Lead-Up to Manslaughter?
When someone has been charged with vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution will have to show that the driver was driving recklessly at the time they caused the accident. Reckless driving is considered a separate offense in New Jersey and is an essential part of the prosecution being able to prove their burden to convict a driver.
- Excessively speeding – driving in excess of the posted speed limit can lead to fines and tickets. Specifically, NJSA 39:4–98 defines the speed limits in and throughout the state and has provided for the penalties that can be imposed for violating those speed limits. In addition, the legislature has provided that any driver who drives in excess of 15-29 miles per an hour over the speed limit can face up to 4 points on their license. A driver who exceeds the speed limit by more than 29 miles per an hour can face up to five points on his or her license.
- Driving while intoxicated – Driving while intoxicated is not technically a criminal offense in New Jersey and is considered a serious traffic violation, however, it may be used to show that you or someone else was driving recklessly at the time of the accident.
- Driving while texting or using a mobile device – While there are well-documented reports that a person should not text and drive because of the elevated risk of being involved in an accident, texting while driving is still prevalent on New Jersey roads.
The Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter in Atlantic County, NJ
Car accidents are traumatic and leave damage not only to the cars but to people as well. Facing a criminal charge of vehicular manslaughter is a serious offense, and the possible penalties match. With a vehicular homicide charge a person can be facing years and years in prison, face thousands of dollars in fines, be ineligible for parole, and also have a criminal record that will follow them. The following are the different penalties that a person can face for a vehicular manslaughter charge.
Prison is one of the chief concerns that people have when they have been charged with a crime and they often want to know if they will go to jail. Vehicular homicide is one of the crimes that a person can go to jail for. In fact, there are two separate prison terms that a person may be sentenced to that correlate to the degree of the charge a person or driver is convicted of. If a person is charged and convicted of second-degree vehicular homicide then they may face a prison sentence of anywhere between five to ten years in state prison. As if this wasn’t daunting enough, a person may also be charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, which carries an even harsher sentence and leave a person standing before the judge with a possible sentence of ten to twenty years.
In addition the prison time that a person may face if they are tried and convicted of vehicular homicide, the court is empowered to issue fines upon conviction. The fines for a vehicular homicide charge can be severe. If you are tried and convicted of vehicular homicide in the second degree then you can face a penalty of $150,000. Additionally, if you are charged and convicted of vehicular homicide in the first degree you may be handed a fine for $200,000.
Ineligibility for Early Release Parole programs
you are probably familiar with the term parole and early release, however in the event that you are tried and convicted of either vehicular homicide in the first or second degree, then you will not be eligible to take advantage of the No Early Release Act.
In addition to these sentences, a person may have their licenses suspended, be placed on probation, have additional fines imposed, and have additional jail sentences imposed. It is very common for a person who has been charged with vehicular homicide to be charged with other crimes as well. This gives the judge and the prosecutor the ability to impose many other forms of punishment that may increase the jail sentences or the fines.
Our Atlantic City Vehicular Homicide Attorneys Can Help
If you or your child was arrested for assault by auto in Atlantic City, you need an experienced and aggressive criminal attorney on your side. To schedule a free and completely confidential legal consultation, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 today. Se habla español.