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New Jersey Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney

Vehicular manslaughter (technically referred to as “vehicular homicide” under New Jersey law) is a serious crime that can lead to a substantial fine and long-term imprisonment. Prosecutors can pursue vehicular homicide charges under a number of circumstances following fatal car accidents. If you have been charged with this crime, you need experienced legal representation, and you should speak with a New Jersey vehicular homicide lawyer as soon as possible.

When Can You Be Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter in New Jersey?

There are two key aspects to a vehicular manslaughter (or vehicular homicide) charge. The first is the “vehicular” aspect of the crime. To face a charge for vehicular manslaughter (as opposed to any other form of manslaughter), you must be driving a vehicle when the events occur that lead to the victim’s death.

The second aspect of the crime is “manslaughter.” This is simply the criminal law term for causing the death of another person. It is important to note that manslaughter does not require an intent to kill. So, even if you accidentally caused a fatal accident (as is almost always the case), you can still face a vehicular manslaughter charge under New Jersey law.

But, New Jersey’s vehicular homicide law does not automatically apply anytime someone causes a fatal accident. Instead, the law requires evidence that the person who caused the accident was driving “recklessly.” As a result, defendants can fight to avoid a conviction in many cases by arguing that while they may have been driving carelessly or negligently, they were not driving recklessly.

What Constitutes Driving “Recklessly” for Purposes of Vehicular Manslaughter?

Recklessness will often be the key element of the prosecution’s case when pursuing a charge for vehicular manslaughter. So, what constitutes driving “recklessly” for purposes of vehicular manslaughter in New Jersey?

New Jersey’s reckless driving statute, Section 39:4-96, states that “[a] person who drives a vehicle heedlessly, in willful or wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, in a manner so as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, a person or property, shall be guilty of reckless driving.” While the law does not identify specific acts that constitute reckless driving, some examples of conduct that may be classified as reckless driving in New Jersey include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Drunk driving
  • Excessive speeding
  • Fatigued driving

Under certain circumstances, distracted driving, drunk driving and fatigued driving may lead one to assume that a person was driving recklessly in the event of a fatal accident. While such assumptions can be overcome in some cases, it adds to the challenges of defending against a New Jersey vehicular homicide charge. Circumstances that may lead to a presumption of recklessness include:

  • “[O]perating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving in violation of [New Jersey’s cell phone law]”
  • “[D]riving while intoxicated in violation of [New Jersey’s DUI law]”
  • Falling asleep while driving or “driving after having been without sleep for a period in excess of 24 consecutive hours”

What are the Penalties for Vehicular Homicide in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, the penalties for vehicular homicide depend on the circumstances involved. However, in most cases, vehicular homicide is prosecuted as a second-degree indictable crime.

These crimes carry upon conviction a sentence of between 5 to 10 years of prison time and up to a $150,000 fine. 85% of that sentence must be served without parole and the person convicted must serve 3 years of special parole after they are released from prison.

The vehicular homicide statute also requires forfeiture of the vehicle involved in the commission of the offense, “unless the defendant can establish . . . by a preponderance of the evidence that such forfeiture would constitute a serious hardship to the family of the defendant that outweighs the need to deter such conduct by the defendant and others.” In cases involving DUI, judges are required to impose a minimum prison term, and defendants can face a driver’s license suspension of five years to life.

In some cases, vehicular homicide is prosecuted as a first-degree indictable crime. In that case, the sentence upon conviction is between 10-30 years in prison of which 85% must be served without parole and requires a period of 5 years of special parole upon release from prison.

Prosecutors can pursue the first-degree charge:

  • When a fatal accident occurs In a school zone or on school property
  • When a fatal crash happens In an area within 1,000 feet of a school zone
  • When a fatal accident takes place In a school crossing
  • If the driver leaves the scene of the fatal accident
  • If the driver was involved in a fatal crash while driving on a suspended license

First-degree indictable crimes carry 10 to 20 years in prison and up to a $200,000 fine.

First-degree and second-degree vehicular homicide convictions are subject to New Jersey’s No Early Release Act (NERA). This means that individuals convicted of these crimes are required to serve at least 85 percent of their prison sentence before they become eligible for parole.

What are Potential Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter in New Jersey?

There are several defenses a New Jersey vehicular manslaughter attorney may be able to argue on your behalf. Depending on the facts of your case, potential defenses to vehicular manslaughter in New Jersey include:

  • You Were Not Driving Recklessly – Not all driving mistakes rise to the level of reckless driving. To convict you, prosecutors must be able to prove that you were behaving recklessly behind the wheel at the time of the crash.
  • You Did Not Cause the Accident – Prosecutors also must be able to prove that your reckless driving caused the victim’s death. If other factors could have played a role in causing the accident or the victim’s death after the accident, you do not deserve to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter.
  • Prosecutors Don’t Have Adequate Evidence of Guilt – Regardless of the circumstances of your case, you should not be found guilty unless prosecutors can prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If prosecutors don’t have adequate evidence to prove their case, you deserve to walk free.
  • Police or Prosecutors Violated Your Rights – If the police questioned you in custody without reading your Miranda rights, if prosecutors have withheld certain evidence, or if police or prosecutors have otherwise violated your rights, this could provide a defense in your New Jersey vehicular homicide case.

Talk to a New Jersey Vehicular Homicide Lawyer for Free

If you need a New Jersey vehicular homicide lawyer, we encourage you to contact us promptly. To schedule a confidential initial consultation as soon as possible, call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online now. 

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Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

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