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Vehicular homicide (also known as vehicular manslaughter) in most states in the United States, is a crime. In general, it involves death that results from the negligent operation of a vehicle, or more so a result from driving whilst committing an unlawful act that does not amount to a felony. In general, it is a lesser charge than manslaughter. In the Model Penal Code there is no separate category of vehicular homicide, and vehicular homicides that involve negligence. Both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide.[1][2] It can be compared to the offence of dangerous driving causing death in other countries.

All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties. In states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations.[3]

The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist, such as a pedestrian, cyclist, another motorist, or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender.[4]

There are proposals in other countries to adopt the single nomenclature of "vehicular homicide" as it is used in the United States.

Contents

Sentencing

A study by professors at Dartmouth College and Harvard University found that those convicted of vehicular homicide are given, on average, shorter sentences than those found guilty of other types of homicide. The study found that the gender of the offender does not statistically affect the length of the sentence, but the race does. The identity of the victim is a more important predictor of sentencing length, with longer sentences given to offenders in cases where the victim was female and/or had no violent criminal record.[4]

Some states, such as Minnesota, have statutes allowing for a charge of an vehicular homicide if an unborn child is killed or injured by a motorist.[5]

Vehicular homicide by state

Georgia

In the state of Georgia, vehicular homicide is more properly known as homicide by vehicle. It is defined, by statute, that unlawful killing of another person using a vehicle. It does not require mens rea, an intent to kill, nor does it require malice aforethought or premeditation.[6]

There are two degrees of vehicular homicide:

First degree homicide by vehicle
This is a felony, that upon conviction will result in a sentence of between 3 and 15 years of imprisonment (or between 5 and 20 years for habitual violators), with no parole for at least 1 year. A homicide is first degree homicide by vehicle if the driver "unlawfully met or overtook a school bus; unlawfully failed to stop after a collision; was driving recklessly; was driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs; failed to stop for, or otherwise was attempting to flee from a law enforcement officer; or had previously been declared a habitual violator".[6]
Second degree homicide by vehicle
This is a misdemeanor, that upon conviction will result in a sentence of up to 1 year (which may be suspended) or a fine of up to US$1,000 (or both). Second degree homicide by vehicle encompasses all other homicides by vehicle, involving any other violation of the laws governing motor vehicles, that are not classed as first degree homicides.[6]

Louisiana

In the state of Louisiana, vehicular homicide is defined as the killing of a human being while operating a motor vehicle, or other means of conveyance, under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances. The minimum punishment is a fine of at least $2,000 (not more than $15,000), and 2-30 years in prison.

Minnesota

In the state of Minnesota, vehicular homicide is one of the six levels of criminal vehicular operation, and is defined as causing the death of a person, that does not constitute murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, or in a negligent manner while in violation of the driving whilst intoxicated law, or where the driver flees the scene in violation of the felony fleeing law.[5] Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence.[7]

Oregon

In the state of Oregon, there is one statute that has "vehicular homicide" in the title. That is "Aggravated vehicular homicide," ORS 163.149.[8] People can be and are prosecuted for vehicular homicides under the already existing Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide statutes. Additionally, there is a special statute that elevates the crime seriousness of Manslaughter I and Criminally Negligent Homicide when it is caused by a drunk driver. ORS 163.147. When victims survive, prosecutors frequently charge defendants with serious assaults by means of a dangerous weapon (to wit: a vehicle). Oregon has a special law commonly referred to as "Measure 11" which subjects first time offenders to harsh mandatory minimum sentences. ORS 137.700. Manslaughter I carries a mandatory ten year sentence, even for a first time conviction. Manslaughter II carries 75 months, approximately 6 1/4 years. Therefore, drivers charged with causing someone's death recklessly (Man II) or recklessly, under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life (Man I), are facing very serious charges with very serious prison time.

Current law requires the State to prove at least criminal or gross negligence to get a conviction. Criminally negligent homicide requires the State to prove criminal negligence. Manslaughter II requires the State to prove recklessness. Manslaughter I requires the State to prove recklessness, under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life. This means it is up to the jury to decide, when a driver kills someone, whether the driver was just ordinarily negligent, making a simple driving mistake that anyone might make (and therefore not guilty of a crime but perhaps liable for civil damages), or whether the driver was grossly negligent or worse (and therefore guilty of a crime).

Civil lawyers and people devastated by the loss of loved ones are pushing for new legislation.[9][10][11] Lonny Friberg, 62, of Scappoose, Oregon, was killed by a careless driver on March 18, 2008. His eldest daughter Erika is fighting for a new law called "A Law For Lonny" that would change the existing law in Oregon.[12] The intention is to provide a method of prosecution in situations where the driver at fault was not intoxicated, (as Oregon's current negligent homicide law would cover this circumstance). More specifically, it would define a vehicle as a potentially deadly weapon, something Oregon law does not currently recognize.

Washington State

RCW 46.61.520 Vehicular homicide — Penalty.
(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor vehicle:
a While under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by RCW 46.61.502; or
b In a reckless manner; or
c With disregard for the safety of others.
(2) Vehicular homicide is a class A felony punishable under chapter 9A.20 RCW, except that, for a conviction under subsection (1)(a) of this section, an additional two years shall be added to the sentence for each prior offence as defined in RCW 46.61.5055.

Wisconsin

In the state of Wisconsin, corporations may be convicted of the negligent operation of a vehicle. Under Wisconsin law, a corporation can be held liable for the actions of its employees even when the employee is expressly instructed not to perform those actions by the employer.[13]

In other countries

In the United Kingdom, there is no offence of "vehicular homicide". The offences are "causing death by dangerous driving" and "causing death by careless driving whilst unfit through alcohol/over prescribed limit", under the Road Traffic Act 1988. This act removed the offence of "reckless driving" as the concept of recklessness in law requires a mens rea that was often difficult to prove in court. Additional offences connected to fatal road collisions were enacted in the Road Safety Act 2006 but have yet to be brought into force. Legal reformists have pressed for the adoption of a categorization more akin to that of the United States. Jeremy Clarkson, an advocate of a vehicular homicide offence, opines that whilst people's perceptions are that death resulting from a motor vehicle is in a different "family" to other killings, "in terms of fault there can be little distinction between those who kill through the dangerous operation of their cars and those who kill with machines, trains, etc.".[14][15]

Famous people convicted

References

  1. ^ John M. Scheb II and John Malcolm Scheb (2001). An Introduction to the American Legal System. Thomson Delmar Learning. pp. 120. ISBN 0766827593.  
  2. ^ Michael Hooper, M. A. Dupont-Morales, and Judy H. Schmidt (2001). Handbook of Criminal Justice Administration. Marcel Dekker. pp. 177. ISBN 0824704185.  
  3. ^ "The Facts: Vehicular Homicide and the Impaired Driver". United States Department of Transportation. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/outreach/safesobr/13qp/facts/facthom.html. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  
  4. ^ a b Glaeser, Edward L. and Sacerdote, Bruce (April 2000). "The Determinants of Punishment: Deterrence, Incapacitation and Vengeance" ( – Scholar search). NBER Working Paper 7676. http://www.nber.org/~confer/99/lesi99/glaeser.pdf.  
  5. ^ a b James Cleary and Joseph Cox. "A Brief Overview of Minnesota’s DWI Laws: Minnesota Statutes Chapter 169A and Related Laws" (PDF). Minnesota Impaired Driving Facts Report. Minnesota Department of Public Safety. http://www.dps.state.mn.us/ots/crashdata/2003%20Impaired%20Facts/IDF03FLawOverviewVer10.pdf.  
  6. ^ a b c Allen M. Trapp, Jr., P.C. (2004). "Vehicular Homicide Laws". http://www.topgun-lawyer.com/veh_homicide.htm.  
  7. ^ "609.21 Criminal Vehicular Homicide and Injury". Office of the Revisor of Statutes, State of Minnesota. 2008. https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/?id=609.21. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  
  8. ^ "Oregon Revised Statutes". Oregon State Legislature. http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/163.html. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  
  9. ^ "Dad's death prompts daughters to push for change". KATU (Fisher Communications). 20 November 2008 (updated). http://www.katu.com/news/19961609.html. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  
  10. ^ "Proposed Law Would Create Crime Of Vehicular Homicide In Oregon". http://209.85.141.104/search?q=cache:o76HIWNkYmsJ:news.opb.org/article/2289-new-vehicular-homicide-law-proposed-oregon/+new-vehicular-homicide-law-proposed-oregon&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us.  
  11. ^ "Widow of slain bicyclist presses for new laws". KATU (Fisher Communications). 20 November 2008 (updated). http://www.katu.com/news/19669639.html. Retrieved 2009-02-10.  
  12. ^ "A Law for Lonny". (private individual). 28 July 2008. http://alawforlonny.com.  
  13. ^ James W. H. MacCord and Sandra L. MacCord (2001). "3. Components of a crime VII. Vicarious and corporate liability". Criminal Law & Procedure for the Paralegal: A Systems Approach. Thomson Delmar Learning. pp. 68–70;. ISBN 0766819655.  
  14. ^ "c.52 §1". Road Traffic Act 1988. Office of Public Sector Information. 1988. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1988/Ukpga_19880052_en_2.htm#mdiv1.  
  15. ^ C.M.V. Clarkson (2000). "Context and culpability in involuntary manslaughter: Principle or instinct?". in Andrew Ashworth and Barry Mitchell. Rethinking English Homicide Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 148–150,164. ISBN 019829915X.  
  16. ^ MacTavish is free New York Times. May 15, 2985. Accessed August 27, 2007.
  17. ^ Dany Heatley avoids jail time CBC Sports. February 4, 2005. Accessed August 27, 2007.
  18. ^ Ex-Cowboys player sentenced to prison for hit-and-run deaths - Sports - Brief Article Jet. September 8, 2003. Accessed August 27, 2007.
  19. ^ Smith, a former Celtic, gets a split verdict, abstract The New York Times. March 13, 1992. Accessed August 27, 2007.
  20. ^ Fox News August 2, 2007.

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