Killing someone under any circumstances, whether intentional or accidental, will result in some extremely serious consequences. A defendant convicted of killing another person could face years behind bars depending on the nature of their crime and their charges. If you accidentally kill someone with your car or by some other means, you may still be guilty of a crime despite not having the intent to commit one. While you are behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, you have a duty and responsibility to pedestrians and other drivers to drive safely. The South Jersey vehicular manslaughter lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain how you might be criminally responsible for the unintentional results of reckless driving. Read on to learn more about the consequences of accidentally killing someone in a car accident in New Jersey.
Definition of Vehicular Homicide in New Jersey
Vehicular homicide occurs when someone is killed as a result of the defendant’s reckless driving. The circumstances surrounding the incident may lead to an inference of reckless driving. For example, falling asleep at the wheel after a period of 24 hours with no sleep may infer recklessness. Also, driving while using your phone, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or failing to stay in one lane may all infer fecklessness on the part of the driver. This inference does not mean the courts assume you are guilty. However, it does mean that law enforcement has more probable cause, which they could use to arrest you.
In some cases, vehicular homicide is a strict liability offense. A strict liability offense is one where the defendant’s criminal intent, or lack thereof, does not matter. Even if you did not intend to drive recklessly, you might still be responsible for vehicular homicide. Strict liability tends to apply to cases where the defendant was driving while intoxicated and caused someone’s death. Generally, intoxication would prevent a defendant from forming the requisite criminal intent to be charged with a crime. However, if the victim’s death would not have occurred but for the driver’s intoxication, the driver may be held strictly liable.
What Happens When You Flee the Scene of an Accident in New Jersey
Vehicular homicide is already a bad situation. You make the situation much worse if you flee the scene before the police arrive. If a driver is involved in an accident with another driver or a pedestrian, is aware of the accident, and flees the scene, they may be guilty of this crime. This offense is a separate offense that does not merge with the crime of vehicular homicide, meaning you can be charged with both offenses.
Your charges may vary depending on how serious the accident was and whether anyone was hurt. If the accident results in another person’s death and you flee the scene, you may be guilty of a crime of the second degree. If the victim suffers serious bodily injury but does not die, you may be guilty of a crime of the third degree.
Difference Between Murder and Vehicular Manslaughter in New Jersey
Do not confuse vehicular homicide with murder. Murder is a different offense that carries different penalties. The key difference between these offenses is the intent of the defendant. To constitute murder, the defendant must have purposefully caused the victim’s death or acted in a way in which they knew the death of the victim would likely result. Murder may also be completed when the victim is killed while the defendant is committing another felony. For example, if a defendant accidentally shot and killed the victim while robbing a bank, the defendant may still be guilty of murder even though they did not mean to shoot the victim.
Manslaughter occurs when the reckless behavior of the defendant causes the victim’s death. Typically, this behavior is so reckless that it demonstrates an extreme indifference to human life on the part of the defendant. Vehicular homicide is often charged as manslaughter because the driver did not intend to cause an accident or kill anyone, but an accident resulted from their reckless driving. If you were in an accident involving another person’s death, you should contact one of our experienced Atlantic County vehicular homicide defense attorneys for help.
Penalties for Vehicular Homicide/Manslaughter in New Jersey
The penalties for vehicular homicide can be very serious, and you should seek the assistance of our Brigantine criminal defense attorney immediately. Reckless vehicular homicide is a crime of the second degree. Such a crime may be punished by a sentence of 5 to 10 years in prison. Strict liability vehicular homicide is a third-degree crime and may be punished by a sentence of 3 to 5 years in prison. Fleeing the scene of an accident in which someone died is also a crime of the third degree punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison.
A defendant guilty of both vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of an accident will have their prison terms run consecutively rather than concurrently. This means they could potentially serve a maximum of 15 years in prison. The judge determines the exact terms of your sentence. Depending on how much discretion the judge has, these terms may vary from case to case. If you accidentally killed someone in a car accident in New Jersey, contact our experienced Cape May vehicular homicide lawyer to help you navigate the criminal justice process.
Call Our Skilled New Jersey Vehicular Homicide Defense Lawyer for a Free Legal Consultation
Vehicular homicide is a very serious offense. If convicted, you may face many years in prison for a crime you did not mean to commit. To put up the best defense possible and protect your rights, you need to hire a qualified attorney who understands the laws of New Jersey. Contact our highly skilled Wildwood vehicular homicide defense lawyer at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation.