Can You Be Charged with Vehicular Homicide While Driving a Boat?

In the summer and particularly down at the famous New Jersey shore, people tend to take the opportunity to go out on boats and cruise around the New Jersey Coastline. Some people own their boat and some people go out and rent one. While going out on a boat for the day can be a great way to enjoy the weather and perhaps do some fishing, some people forget that they are operating a motor vehicle which can cause them to be a bit more reckless than they normally would be if they were driving a car. Accidents and collisions on boats are rare they do happen, and when they do they can result in deaths and a very serious criminal charge, vehicular manslaughter.

Can You Be Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter After a Boating Accident?

Boating accidents do happen. Take for example the sad case in 2013, where a boater in Freehold New Jersey was allegedly drunk when his vessel collided with another boat. Over two years later the boater was indicted for a vehicular homicide charge.  Prosecutors contended that the defendant was operating his boat while under the influence of alcohol and at an unsafe rate of speed at the time of the crash. The defendant, in this case, was charged with vehicular homicide under the New Jersey Death by Auto Law.

Under the New Jersey Death by auto law, or vehicular manslaughter statute N.J.S.A. § 2C:11-5a, a person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if they cause a death “by driving a vehicle or vessel recklessly.”

Another section of the New Jersey code that clarifies whether or not a person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if they were driving a boat is N.J.S.A. 2C 11-5d which provides: “As used in this section, ‘auto or vessel’ means all means of conveyance propelled otherwise than by muscular power.” This means that any boat that has an engine on it can be a vessel that is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the New Jersey vehicular manslaughter statute.

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Are Boat Accidents Common?

To some, this may seem like an obscure post, but in reality, boating accidents are a frequent occurrence and when they do happen they can be even more lethal than accidents that occur on the road. On May 5, 2015 the United States Coast Guard in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a report that contained statistics on recreational boating accidents.  In 2014, the Coastguard accounted for 4,064 accidents that involved 610 deaths and 2678 injuries. Among the reasons for boating accidents include the following:

  • Driver inattention – which accounted for over 563 accidents and 38 deaths
  • Operator inexperience – which accounted for 391 accidents and 44 deaths
  • Excessive speed – which accounted for 282 accidents and 23 deaths
  • Alcohol use – which accounted for 277 accidents and 14 deaths.

What should seem familiar to anyone who has read anything on vehicular homicide is that many of these accidents were caused because of something the driver did, and may support the element of a vehicular manslaughter charge that the driver was driving recklessly. N.J.S.A 2C:11-5 provides some examples of actions that may constitute reckless driving. Some of these are:

  • Providing proof that the defendant fell asleep while they were driving
  • Providing proof that the defendant had been driving without sleep for over 24 hours.
  • Driving while intoxicated can serve to demonstrate recklessness.
  • Proof that the defendant was operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs in violation of section 3 of P.L.1952, c.157 (C.12:7-46)
  • Proof that the defendant was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle in violation of section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3) may give rise to an inference that the defendant was driving recklessly

There are many other instances and scenarios that can lead to a person being charged with vehicular manslaughter. Recklessness is a condition of the mind that cannot be seen and that can often be determined only from inferences from conduct, words, or acts.

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Are the Penalties the Same for a Boating Accident as They Are for a Car?

Because the vehicles are different it is common to ask if there is a difference in the penalties that may be imposed by a judge if you are convicted of vehicular manslaughter while driving a boat. While there many a great deal of difference between a car and a boat, the penalties are the same.

Generally, vehicular manslaughter is charged as a second-degree crime, which means that if a person is tried and convicted they may be sentenced to serve up to ten years in jail, as well as a fine of up to $150,000. While being charged with firs degree vehicular homicide and is generally reserved for when a person has committed a vehicular homicide in a school zone, if a person is tried and convicted of this degree of offense then they can face a penalty of up to thirty years in state prison and a fine in excess of 200,000

Trust an Experienced Criminal Lawyer in New Jersey

Murder and manslaughter charges can change your life forever.  Don’t wait another day to take legal action.  To schedule a free, completely private legal consultation, call an Atlantic City criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych right away at (609) 616-4956.  Our phone lines are always open.  Se habla español.

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