Is Killing Someone in a Car Accident Manslaughter?
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Car accidents are one of the most common causes of death in the USA. Every year, more than one million people die as a result of being involved in a car accident. The law surrounding car accident deaths and injuries works both to protect people who become victims of car accidents, but also those involved in car accidents who are not at fault.
If you've been involved in a car accident and someone has passed away, you may be wondering whether you're at fault, to what extent you're at fault, and if you might have to go to prison as a result. This all depends on the accident itself. You are not automatically going to go to jail or prison if someone dies in a car accident. The legal system evaluates what has happened, and to what extent you were responsible for the accident.
While many of us think of words like homicide and murder when someone is killed by another person, the legal system has lots of different terms and concepts for cases when one person causes the death of another. This is actually to protect the other person in cases where they were not directly responsible for the death in the accident. It also works to protect people who may have caused the death of another person, but in a way they couldn't control, for whatever reason.
For example, the law differentiates between murder or homicide and the concept of 'manslaughter.' While you can be charged with homicide if you have deliberately taken the life of another human being, you may be charged with manslaughter instead if it is found that you have caused the death of another person, but did not intend to do so. There are also different types of categories or manslaughter, but a manslaughter charge is less serious than a homicide charge.
What is Manslaughter?
As mentioned above, manslaughter refers to killing another human being without intending to do so. There are lots of different legal concepts that come into play here, but the most important is called 'malice aforethought.' In short, this means that a person intended to do something malicious prior to carrying out the act. For example, if you intend to take someone's life, plan to do so, and then carry out the act, then a court of law can establish the presence of malice aforethought. You could then be charged with homicide.
However, if malice aforethought is not present in a case where one person has caused the death of another, then the case is more likely to be considered manslaughter. The definition of manslaughter can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but manslaughter generally refers to cases where one has caused the death of another but is less culpable or responsible than one would need to be charged for murder. In cases of someone dying in a car accident, this is almost always a total accident. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, a person is then likely to be charged with a type of involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary Manslaughter Explained
When a court is considering a case where someone has died, one of the most important things to establish is how responsible the defendant was for the death of the victim. For example, if you have been in a car accident where someone has died, you are not necessarily going to be charged with a crime at all. However, if the court establishes that you had no intention whatsoever of causing harm, but you caused the death of another human as a result of being reckless or negligent, then you can be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter is a concept that covers cases where death has been caused as the result of negligence or recklessness on the part of the defendant. While it is less serious than a homicide charge, involuntary manslaughter is still quite serious, because the court has decided that you are ultimately responsible for someone's death as a result of considerable negligence.
There are also different forms of the concept of negligence. If you have caused a car accident as a result of carelessness, then you may be charged with manslaughter if someone has died as a result of you being negligent. Negligence in the context of a car accident could be failing to look out for pedestrians before you back out of your driveway, for example. However, if you have been negligent in a way that is considered to be very irresponsible and dangerous, then the court may decide that you have acted in gross negligence instead.
Gross Negligence, Explained
As opposed to ordinary negligence, gross negligence refers to negligence which is deliberate and done with obvious disregard for the safety of others. For example, if you decided to speed through an area full of pedestrians, then a court is likely to consider this to be gross negligence, as this is something that is obviously dangerous and likely to cause harm to others.
If a court decides that you have acted in gross negligence, then the charges laid down are likely to be much more severe than if you had simply acted in negligence. You may also be found to have acted in gross negligence if you were driving under the influence at the time of the accident. For example, if you drive drunk and there is an accident causing the death of a second party, the court is likely to decide that you have acted in gross negligence unless there was a very good reason for you to be driving under the influence (an emergency, for example).
What is Vehicular Manslaughter?
Vehicular manslaughter is a type of manslaughter related to vehicle accidents. If you have been responsible for an accident, causing the death of a second party, then a court may find you to be liable and charge you with vehicular manslaughter. However, a fatal accident is not always going to result in a charge of vehicular manslaughter. Whether or not a court charges you with vehicular manslaughter depends on a range of factors.
When considering whether to charge you with vehicular manslaughter, a court is going to consider a range of factors. You are not going to be charged with vehicular manslaughter if the court can establish that the accident was genuinely something outside of your control, for example. If conditions on the road were poor, or some freak accident occurred, then it is very unlikely that you are going to be considered responsible for the accident and subsequently charged with vehicular manslaughter.
There are different factors that need to be established before a court can convict you of vehicular manslaughter. Something that is important in many states when considering a vehicular manslaughter charge is whether or not you have driven recklessly or in a way that constitutes negligence. If your negligent driving or actions behind the wheel caused the accident, then you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
This may be the case even if your mistake was minor if it resulted in a fatal accident. From a legal standpoint, the fact that the accident was fatal is enough to charge you with vehicular manslaughter, even if you only briefly took your eyes off the road to get something from the back seat of your car. Reckless driving is somewhat subjective, but the court is likely to consider you to have committed vehicular manslaughter unless the accident was completely outside of your control.
You may also be charged with vehicular manslaughter if you were negligent or have violated a statute in the state where the accident took place. For example, if the state you are in requires your windscreen to be clear when driving, and your windscreen was obstructed and this was the reason for the accident, then you are likely to be caused with vehicular manslaughter. This is why it's important that you always follow the legal code of the state where you drive.
Another circumstance where you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter might be if you chose to drive while sleepy. For example, if you worked a long shift, stayed up all night, and then drove and caused a fatal accident, this would likely be considered negligent. You could then be charged for vehicular manslaughter under such circumstances, even though you didn't intend to cause an accident or harm to another. From a legal standpoint, the most important thing to establish is that you failed to act in a way that could prevent harm to others.
Is Vehicular Manslaughter a Violent Crime?
While it may be a serious charge, vehicular manslaughter is generally not considered to be a violent crime from a legal standpoint. However, laws can change and vary from state to state. For something to be considered a violent crime, the victim has to have been threatened with or harmed by violence. Even if you are responsible for a fatal accident, this is not considered to be violent if you did not intend to harm the other person.
In the USA, violent crimes are crimes like first degree or second-degree murder and homicide, rape, and assault. If you have been charged with vehicular manslaughter, the court has decided that you did not intend to harm the other party in the car accident, and it was therefore not a violent crime. This is different from a charge of first-degree homicide, for example, where you have planned to take the life of another, and subsequently carried out this plan.
What is the Average Sentence for DUI Manslaughter?
The sentence you can receive for DUI manslaughter depends on the circumstance surrounding the accident when you were the driver, as well as your criminal record or background as a driver. Your potential sentence also depends on the state where the accident occurred. The court is also going to consider the type of negligence that has occurred, and whether your actions can be considered to be an example of regular or gross negligence.
In California, for example, you could receive a sentence between one-ten years for vehicular manslaughter with a DUI. A case where you, as the driver, are considered to have acted in gross negligence is likely to carry a much more serious penalty than a case of regular negligence. It is worth mentioning that you are likely going to be considered to have acted in gross negligence unless you have a very good reason for having driven while intoxicated. For example, if there was an emergency that required you to drive, and you subsequently were in a car accident, then this might be a good enough reason for you to escape a charge of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
Regardless of the crime, courts generally lean heavily on police reports for such cases, as they don't have much else to go on. This is why it's important that you seek legal advice as soon as possible if you have been responsible for a car accident that caused death. An attorney may be able to help you argue for your case so that you can escape the most serious charges that may apply to your case or present new evidence that changes the eventual verdict, if possible.
Which is Worse - Vehicular Homicide, or Manslaughter?
In some states, the conceptions of vehicular manslaughter are different than others, and the concept of vehicular homicide may apply. If you are in a state where you can be charged with vehicular homicide, then this is likely going to depend on the circumstances surrounding the accident. Vehicular homicide can still apply if you as the driver have caused a death, even if it was the result of reckless driving.
For example, in Ohio, if you as the driver have caused the death of a third party, then you are likely to be charged with vehicular homicide unless the death was the result of you committing a minor traffic infringement or offense. Otherwise, you, as the driver responsible for the death in the accident, are likely to be charged with vehicular homicide. As such, vehicular homicide is a more serious charge than vehicular manslaughter. However, it does not necessarily imply that you as the driver intended to cause death or injury, and is not as serious as a homicide charge.
What Should I Do If I Was Involved in a Fatal Car Accident?
If you were the driver in a car accident that has resulted in the death of a second party, it's crucial that you seek legal assistance as soon as you can. As the driver responsible for the death of a second party in a car accident, you may face serious criminal charges, depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident. The outcome of the case may depend entirely on how strong your defense is, and how well you can present your case to the court.
This is why you need to contact a personal injury or defense lawyer as soon as you can to get legal advice. A law firm specializing in personal injury cases should be able to help you with the legal advice you need to present a strong defense. If you want to avoid criminal charges for causing the death of a second party as the driver in a car accident, you need to present very strong evidence as to why the accident was not your fault, or it was unavoidable.
Our law firm specializes in cases like these. If you as the driver of a car have caused the death of a second party in an accident, please get in touch and tell us about the accident. When you tell us about the event, one of the attorneys at our law firm can evaluate your case and your defense. If we feel that you should avoid criminal charges, then we can help you develop a strong defense for when your case goes to court. Causing the death of a second party as the driver of a vehicle can be a traumatic experience. However, if it wasn't your fault, then you don't deserve to face criminal charges for the incident.
If you have caused the death of a second party in a car accident, this doesn't automatically mean you need to face jail time. Our team of attorneys can help you lessen your prison time or change your sentence, even if the accident you were involved in resulted in death or serious injury. The most important thing is that your defense is convincing and proves that your intention was not to cause death or injury, or that the death you caused was unavoidable or out of your hands.
Whether you want to know how long you should be sore after an accident or how to prove you aren't at fault in a car accident, The Keating Firm can help you get all the information you need.
Disclaimer: The details included in this blog is offered for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as lawful guidance in any way. No recipients of material from this blog, clients or otherwise, should or should not act on the basis of any material consisted in the blog without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional guidance on the particular facts and situations at issue from an attorney accredited in the recipient's state.