Will You Go to Jail for Accidentally Killing Someone in New Jersey?

Killing someone in New Jersey, or any state, is an extremely serious matter and will likely result in some legal consequences. However, not all forms of homicide are the same. Killing on accident is very different than killing on purpose, so the penalties will not be the same. You might hear the term “criminal homicide” in reference to criminal charges for causing another’s death. Criminal homicide is a general term that encompasses many different forms of homicide, some intentional, some accidental.

You may not have intended to kill anyone, but an unintentional killing may still be a criminal homicide and you may face very serious penalties, including jail time. Read on for an explanation of the consequences of accidentally killing someone in New Jersey from our Atlantic City manslaughter defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.

Understanding the Negligent Homicide Statute in New Jersey

In New Jersey, there is no statute regarding negligent homicide specifically. While it is possible that homicide can occur as a result of negligent behavior, this offense would likely be charged as a form of manslaughter. The only homicide-related charges that include elements of negligence are homicides involving a boat or vehicle. A negligent killing that occurs by some other means would fall under a different statute. A killing that occurs unintentionally is more likely to be looked at as a reckless killing rather than a negligent one. The element of recklessness in the charge of manslaughter is discussed below.

Types of Criminal Homicide You Can Be Charged with in New Jersey

Criminal homicide refers to the killing of another person. The killing may be done purposely, or it may be done accidentally. Accidental killings that fall under the criminal homicide umbrella may be done without the intent to kill, but in a way that shows the defendant knew their actions were dangerous and acted anyway, or acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Criminal homicide includes murder, manslaughter, and death by auto or vessel (otherwise known as vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter).


Murder is the most severe charge for criminal homicide because it requires the intent of the defendant to do the killing. Generally, murder is committed when the defendant purposely causes the death of the victim, acts in a way they know will result in the victim’s death, or causes the death of the victim while fleeing the scene of another serious crime. If you accidentally killed someone, you will probably not be charged with murder.

Murder is a crime of the first degree and a defendant convicted of murder may be sentenced to a prison term from 30 years to life. Whether or not a convicted defendant is eligible for parole will depend on the nature and severity of the offense. For example, if the victim was under the age of 18, the defendant will not be eligible for parole.

If you have been charged with murder, but you believe the killing occurred accidentally, you may have a valid defense. Call our experienced Atlantic City murder defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych for help.


Manslaughter is a similar crime to murder, but manslaughter does not require the intent of the defendant to kill the victim purposefully. However, manslaughter does require recklessness that is so extreme as to demonstrate indifference to human life. Manslaughter may be separated into two distinct categories. These categories are “manslaughter” and “aggravated manslaughter.”

Manslaughter occurs when a killing is committed recklessly or is done intentionally but “in the heat of passion.” A reckless killing is one in which the defendant knew their conduct was dangerous and someone could get hurt but chose to act anyway. A killing that occurs in the heat of passion is similar to murder because the defendant had the intent to kill the victim. However, the killing happened as a result of some reasonable provocation. A common example is a man who kills his wife because he walked in on her having an affair with another man. While the man may have intended to kill his wife, he can argue that he would have acted differently had he not suddenly found his wife with another man.

Aggravated manslaughter is like ordinary manslaughter but worse. It also may require a reckless act by the defendant, but the act is so reckless that it demonstrates an extreme indifference to life. These are situations where the defendant may not have intended to kill the victim, but their actions were extremely dangerous and morally repugnant. Aggravated manslaughter may also occur when the defendant causes another person’s death while attempting to elude or evade the police.

Aggravated manslaughter is typically charged as a first-degree crime and ordinary manslaughter is charged as a second-degree crime. Our Atlantic City aggravated manslaughter defense lawyers can help you understand these charges.

Vehicular Homicide/Vehicular Manslaughter

Ordinarily, a vehicular homicide might fall under the category of manslaughter. Car accidents are usually unintentional, so they rarely rise to the level of murder. However, when a vehicular homicide occurs due to drunk driving, it is said to be a “strict liability vehicular homicide.” When a person is intoxicated, they are prevented from forming the intent to kill. While most offenses require some level of intent to be charged as a crime, strict liability vehicular homicide does not. Strict liability offenses are ones in which the defendant does not need any criminal intent. They may be charged regardless of their intent. Strict liability vehicular homicide is not an intentional killing and may be charged as a third-degree crime.

Penalties for Accidentally Killing Someone in NJ

An accidental killing may result in criminal charges and jail time. Manslaughter, as stated previously, can be charged as a first or second-degree crime. A first-degree crime may be punished by a prison term from 10 to 20 years. A second-degree crime may be punished by a prison term of 5 to 10 years. When an accidental killing is a strict liability vehicular homicide, it may be charged as a third-degree crime. Such a crime may be punished by a prison term of 3 to 5 years.

It is important to remember that when a killing is accidental, it will probably not be charged as murder. Murder is a much more severe offense, and the penalties are greater than a typical first-degree crime. If you have been charged with murder, you may be able to have your charges reduced by arguing that the killing was accidental and you lacked the requisite intent to kill the victim.

Contact Our New Jersey Manslaughter Defense Attorney for a Free Legal Consultation

Criminal charges relating to an accidental killing are extremely serious and may result in very harsh consequences. You can absolutely go to jail for accidentally killing someone in New Jersey. If you accidentally killed someone and are now facing criminal charges, contact our Atlantic City criminal defense attorney at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych. Call (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation.

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