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?
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.
Consequence and Penalties of Vehicular Manslaughter
The consequences for vehicular homicide can be severe and even life-altering. Anytime you are convicted of a criminal offense, you may not realize the full impact until years down the road when your criminal record keeps you from getting a job, an apartment, or into a school program.
In New Jersey, vehicular homicide is classified as a crime of the second degree. A person who is convicted of a second-degree crime can be sentenced to a prison term of between five to ten years, fined up to $150,000, or both.
Additionally, New Jersey has a program known as “No Early Release Act”(NERA). NERA is one of several laws passed in various states when federal legislation (the Omnibus Crime Act of 1994, Title I1Subtitle A) encouraged states to pass “Truth in Sentencing” laws. These laws were modeled on the federal sentencing structure and were intended to provide some uniformity amongst criminal penalties. These laws require felons to serve a minimum of 85% of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole. In 2001 the Legislature substantially amended NERA, thus rendering moot a significant amount of case law interpreting the former version of the statute. The NERA Mandatory Parole Disqualifier. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2(a) requires the court fix “a minimum term of 85% of the sentence imposed, during which the defendant shall not be eligible for parole,” for the following first and second-degree crimes:
Vehicular homicide (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5);
Murder (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3);
Aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11- 4);
Aggravated assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b));
Disarming a law enforcement officer (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-11);
Kidnapping (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1);
Aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a));
Sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(b) and (c)(1));
Robbery (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1);
This is not an all-inclusive list but demonstrates how severe the criminal justice system can be and what you might face if you are convicted of vehicular homicide.
Rely on Our Atlantic City Criminal Defense Attorneys To Look Into Your Legal Matter
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) 625-3006 today. Se habla español.