Deaths cause by driving may be considered vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide. Discover the difference between the two, and the possible repercussions

Vehicular Manslaughter vs. Vehicular Homicide: What’s the Difference?

Well over one million people find themselves in deadly situations due to vehicles every year. While rising vehicle safety standards across several first-world countries have curbed fatal accidents, death tolls are still immense.

When we talk about accidents, we often discuss the victims of those events. But what about the drivers that initiate accidents, particularly those that do so unintentionally. What happens to them?

If you’re curious to discover what vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide are, keep reading. Below, we break down two common charges those that initiate accidents are hit with and what you should do if you’re facing down either (hint: you’ll want to call a lawyer)!


Exploring Vehicular Manslaughter

When you initiate a traffic accident that results in the death of someone, the softest charge you can get is vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular manslaughter definitions vary from state to state. Generally, those that cause an accident because of a minor violation of traffic rules (think lane changing without using a signal or going a small amount over the speed limit) will face manslaughter charges.

What Are the Punishments?

We can’t stress enough that like charges, punishments can vary greatly from state to state. Broadly, punishments for vehicular manslaughter will include up to $750 in fines, the suspension of your license, and could result in 90  days in prison.

Having a skilled attorney advocating for your needs with prosecutors can help you fall in the lower range of those punitive possibilities.

Exploring Vehicular Homicide

Vehicular homicide is a step up from vehicular manslaughter. A quality both charges share is that they assume the driver had no intent to kill.

Homicide charges tend to be applied to those that exercise a moderate degree of recklessness like texting while driving or speeding in clearly marked construction zones. The degree of your perceived negligence will affect the punishments that are ultimately levied against you by prosecutors.

What Are the Punishments?

Generally speaking, vehicular homicide will carry charges that are in line with first-degree misdemeanors in your state. That might include half a year in prison, roughly $1000 in fines, and a long-term license suspension (up to 5 years).

Again, punishments will align with the degree of your negligence and a quality attorney can help take some of the prosecution pressure off of you.

Exploring Vehicular Homicide While Aggravated

Some states carry a higher degree of vehicular homicide called aggravated vehicular homicide. This crime is considered a felony in most states. Felonies carry much steeper implications than the two charges we’ve just discussed.

The penalties for aggravated vehicular homicide in the United States vary from state to state. Generally, aggravated vehicular homicide can result in a sentence of several years, a fine, and the loss of driving privileges. The driver may be held liable for civil damages to the victim’s family.

The term aggravated is applied to homicide charges when drivers reasonably know they’re taking serious risks while driving but choose to do so anyway. That might look like drinking while driving or driving recklessly as a means of fanning road rage.

What Are the Punishments?

Punishments for aggravated homicide are in line with punishments felony offenders receive. These punishments will vary depending on whether or not you were under the influence of alcohol. That’s because many states have higher punishment tiers for driving while impaired.

For a DUI, you could face up to 8 years in prison, over $10,000 in fines, and may lose your license forever. For aggravated homicide cases that don’t involve the use of alcohol, you’d be staring down up to 3 years in prison. You’d also be liable for less than $10,000 in fines and at least a 3-year license suspension.

The specific penalties for aggravated vehicular homicide will depend on the state where the offense was committed, the driver’s criminal record, and specific circumstances, such as whether the driver was under the influence of prohibited drugs or alcohol at the time of the road accident.

In some states, aggravated vehicular homicide can be considered a first-, second-, or third-degree murder charge, resulting in a 10-year, 25-year, or a life sentence.

What You Should Do When Facing Down Homicide/Manslaughter Charges

Even drivers that don’t have so much of a blemish on their driving records run into the charges we’ve discussed. After all, all it takes is one lapse in judgment like glancing down at a text message to create deadly conditions.

No matter what kind of charge you’re facing after a serious road indecent, it’s always beneficial to get backed by a lawyer when you’ve broken driving laws.

Make sure the lawyer you hire has experience in handling cases involving aggravated vehicular homicide. Find an attorney with a good reputation, a flexible communication style, and a track record of great results.

Lawyers will hold prosecution accountable for investigating your case in a way that’s fully in compliance with the law. They’ll also negotiate on your behalf when it comes to the degree of punishment prosecution levies against you.

And let’s say your case goes to court rather than settles (this is rare). Your lawyer can represent you in front of a jury. That’s something that’s best not embarked on solo. You can get legal counsel from a trusted criminal defense law firm when facing a homicide or manslaughter charge. 

It’s also important to be prepared to answer questions from the lawyer about the circumstances of your case. Your criminal defense attorney needs to know the specifics of the accident to develop a solid argument for your case.

Are There Any Crimes Behind the Wheel That Dwarf What We’ve Discussed?

Every one of the vehicle charges we’ve talked about assumes that resulting deaths were unintentional.

Let’s say you killed someone behind the wheel of a car with the intent to do so. Let’s say you did that in a way that was pre-meditated. In those cases, you’d be facing murder charges. Murder charges are more grave than anything we’ve discussed to this point.

When charged with murder, depending on your state, you could receive life in prison. You might even qualify for the death penalty.

Murder charges absolutely warrant a formal criminal vehicular operation legal defense.

Your Vehicular Manslaughter Vs. Vehicular Homicide Questions – Answered

Vehicular manslaughter vs. vehicular homicide generates a lot of debate and questions. At the end of the day, degrees of negligence are what separates those two charges. Degrees of negligence also separate the seriousness of the penalties prosecution will pursue against you.

Finally, being under the influence of alcohol in many states is the most severe negligent act you can partake in. You can expect higher penalties in these instances.

Still feeling like you need information on penalties while driving? Looking for additional context on the topics we’ve discussed?

If so, our team welcomes you to explore more of the educational write-ups we have featured in our blog.

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