Vehicular Homicide Lawyer in Phoenix
There are various phrases used to describe crimes involving a death by auto. In some states, the offense is called vehicular homicide. In Arizona, while there is no crime with that particular name, the offense is covered under other homicide laws. This means, among other things, that there are different offenses that could be charged in the case of vehicular homicide. All these offenses are serious, but some are more serious – and carry stiffer penalties – than others.
If you are facing a charge of vehicular homicide, contact an experienced Phoenix homicide attorney today. The consultation is free.
Vehicular Homicide Offenses in Arizona
To begin with, homicide is used in the Arizona Criminal Code not as a single offense, but rather as a category that includes a number of crimes involving taking the life of another human being. The differences between the various homicide offenses are in part a function of the mental state (intentional, negligent, etc.) of the defendant. Those crimes include:
- Negligent Homicide. This offense consists of causing the death of another person with “criminal negligence.” Criminal negligence is further defined as the failure perceive the existence of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. That failure is more than mere negligence, however; it must be a “gross deviation” from the standard of care that would be observed by a reasonable person in a like situation. Examples of negligent homicide involving motor vehicles might, depending upon the circumstances, include running a stop sign and causing the death of a pedestrian, distracted driving, etc. The charge could change, of course, if additional evidence surfaces. Negligent homicide is a class 4 felony.
- Manslaughter is similar to negligent homicide, except that it involves (at least within the area of vehicular homicide) causing another person’s death through reckless behavior. Reckless behavior is more culpable than negligent behavior. While both involve a gross deviation from the ordinary standard of care of a reasonable person, manslaughter consists of behavior where the defendant is aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, and consciously chooses to disregard that risk. The statute goes on to state that if you are unaware of such a risk as the result of voluntary intoxication, you acted recklessly. Causing a death while intoxicated is often, but not always, charged as manslaughter. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony.
- Second Degree Murder. Second degree murder requires that you cause the death of another person either (a) intentionally, (b) knowing that your conduct will lead to death or serious injury or death, or (c) recklessly engaging in conduct that demonstrates an extreme indifference to human life, and creating a serious risk of death. In some cases involving a DUI traffic fatality, second degree murder may be charged. Second degree murder is a class 1 felony.
- First Degree Murder. This charge is reserved for premeditated murder, for causing the death of another person while engaged in various offenses, including sexual assault, terrorism, certain drug crimes, and others, or for knowingly causing the death of a law enforcement officer. While knowingly and with premeditation running someone over could be charged as first degree murder, that offense is rarely charged in vehicular homicide cases. First degree murder is a class 1 felony that could carry life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
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As a generally rule, homicide offenses resulting from a traffic death caused by the negligent operation of a vehicle – running a stop sign, failure to yield to a pedestrian, and similar motor vehicle violations – will in most cases lead to a charge of negligent homicide. If the conduct is reckless, that is, a “gross deviation” from the reasonable standard of care, the charge could be manslaughter. And if the conduct of the driver demonstrates an “extreme indifference” to human life, you could find yourself facing a second degree murder charge. You may wonder, at this point, where driving under the influence fits in, and what happens when a DUI leads to a traffic death
Obviously, the fact that you may have been intoxicated is not a defense to a crime, including vehicular homicide. And most traffic fatalities caused by a drunk driver or a drugged driver are charged as manslaughter.
Remember, of course, that merely being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and being in a traffic accident leading to the death of another person does not, in and of itself, satisfy all the elements necessary for negligent homicide, manslaughter, or, for that matter, any other charge besides DUI itself. The necessary piece of the equation is causation. Driving drunk, for example, becomes a potential homicide offense only if there is evidence that the driver was, for example, driving negligently, and that the negligence caused the death of another person.
In some more extreme cases, DUI homicide is charged as second degree murder. In these cases, there are a number of factors that could cause the prosecutor to charge the more serious offense. One example is when the driver has a high blood alcohol content (BAC) and is charged with extreme DUI (BAC of 0.15 or higher) or super extreme DUI (BAC of 0.20 or higher).
Vehicular Homicide Attorney in Phoenix
If you have been arrested for vehicular homicide, you are facing a serious felony charge. At The Feldman Law Firm, we are experienced at defending homicide cases. Call us for a free consultation.