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Vehicular Homicide – NJSA 2C:11-5

Defense Attorney for NJ Vehicular Homicide Case

It can happen in an instant. One minute you are a law-abiding citizen the next you are behind the wheel of a fatal car crash. And it does not take much, a simple glance down at your phone, an extra glass of wine, or even an icy road. 

As an experienced criminal lawyer and DUI defense attorney and prosecutor, I understand very well how serious the crime of vehicular homicide is. Those accused of this crime face grave and life-changing consequences and need an experienced criminal defense attorney ready to fight for their rights. 

Vehicular Homicide Elements

Vehicular homicide is a criminal charge that results from driving a vehicle recklessly, which causes another individual’s death. In New Jersey, the law on this offense is governed by NJSA 2C:11-5. For an individual to be found guilty of vehicular homicide under this statute, the following elements must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant was driving a motor vehicle.
  • The defendant caused the victim’s death, and
  • The death was caused by the defendant driving their motor vehicle recklessly. 

What is Required for the State to Prove these Charges?

To convict an individual of vehicular homicide; the state needs to prove that the defendant’s reckless driving resulted in the victim’s death. Even though intoxication is one of the more common factors that establish recklessness, it can also be determined by the following circumstances: 

  • Excessive Speeding
  • Sleep Deprivation
  • Distracted Driving 

In many cases, if the victim did not immediately die from the motor vehicle accident, the defendant will be first charged with Assault by Auto. However, if the victim later passes away from their injuries, the charges can be upgraded to vehicular homicide.

Criminal Penalties for Vehicular Homicide 

Reckless driving that results in vehicular homicide can result in lengthy prison time and many hefty fines. The following are criminal penalties that can arise. 

Second Degree Felony

In New Jersey, vehicular homicide is a Second Degree Felony, which provides for a “presumption of incarceration,” meaning if you are convicted of this crime, you are presumed to be given jail time. The jail sentences range between five and ten years, and penalties also include $150,000 in fines. In addition, the court can impose a minimum prison term between one third and one half of the initial sentence, a term of three years, or whichever sentence is higher if the following factors are met:

  • The defendant was handling a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Or, the defendant was operating the vehicle while his driver’s license was revoked or suspended. 
  • The defendant refused to submit to a breath sample. 

First Degree Felony

Vehicular homicide would be considered a First Degree Felony if the defendant violated New Jersey’s DWI/ DUI laws, and the accident happened:

  • At a school crossing
  • On school property
  • Any property that is used by the school

If a defendant is convicted of a First Degree Felony, it will also be a “presumption of incarceration” and jail time can range anywhere from ten to twenty years with fines of up to $200,000. In addition, the court will also impose a minimum prison term between one third and one half of the initial sentence, a term of three years, or whichever sentence is higher. 

No Early Release Act

In New Jersey, violations of first and second-degree vehicular homicide fall under the statue of No Early Release Act (NERA) or the 85% statute. This statute requires that the defendant serve 85% of their sentence before being eligible for parole.

Vehicular homicide is a serious charge with many significant consequences. Not only are the fines and jail time extensive, but upon conviction, the defendant’s license will be suspended anywhere from five years to life. Additionally, the defendant will be required to go through mandatory assessments, pay hefty discretionary fines, and forgo their motor vehicle used in the offense of the crime. That is why if you have been charged with vehicular homicide, it is imperative to have a skilled defense attorney working on your behalf. 

What are Potential Defenses to Vehicular Homicide?

As you can imagine finding a potential defense to a vehicular homicide charge is critical. However, when the charges are so severe, how can an attorney overcome them? 

  • Field Sobriety Tests: Alcohol can play a significant role in these types of accidents. Therefore, the results of a field sobriety test can have a giant impact on a defendant’s conviction. One reliable defensive technique is getting the police to admit that the field sobriety testing procedures were not followed.
  • Other Causes: In some instances, there can be different reasons for the accident. Whether it was due to a mechanical failure or another driver was involved, your defense attorney will look into all possible rationale for the accident to mitigate the consequences.
  • Blood Test Results: Blood tests are usually more reliable than breath tests. So it is vital that the test is conducted appropriately and efficiently. When they are not, a defense lawyer will try to suppress this evidence by attacking the way the test was drawn and the accuracy of the results.
  • Missing Elements: In a vehicular homicide case, the charges require a stronger mental state than just negligence. The prosecution needs to show that the defendant had a reckless disregard for human life when the accident happened. One way, a defense attorney can combat this charge is to show that the elements of the charge have not been met. For example, your attorney can argue through a pre-trial motion to dismiss the allegations that the specific intent to commit this crime has not been proven and therefore does not rise to the level of a vehicular homicide charge.

Why You Need an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with vehicular homicide in New Jersey, you face significant consequences that will affect your career, relationships, and the rest of your life. You need an attorney that can help you understand what you are up against and be able to elicit evidence, necessary information, and testimony that will help them come up with the best defense on your behalf. 

Law Office of Anthony J. Vecchio

Attorney Anthony J. Vecchio has spent his entire career defending those accused of crimes, serious motor vehicle violations, and DWIs. Through his legal work and dedication, he truly understands what it takes to provide his clients with the personalized and effective representation that they deserve. If you or a family member have been charged with vehicular homicide, you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Do not wait any longer; contact the Law Office of Anthony J. Vecchio today.

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    “Mr. Vecchio was very thorough and efficient. His team was accommodating and the ultimate outcome was better than expected. Mr. Vecchio kept me up to date with every detail via emails and text messages. An all around good guy and family man.”
    “I have been working with Anthony on my husband’s out of state case for a few days now. He is punctual and doesn’t make you feel like you are asking too many questions in such a stressful time. He knows exactly what is happening before you even tell him. He is very professional and treats you like a human at the same time with the most respect.”
    "Anthony was instrumental in making the worst time in my life manageable. He's smart, intuitive and most of all he gave me peace of mind. I would recommend him to anyone looking for a sharp, progressive attorney who knows how to navigate the law."

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