Maine’s Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist in Maine who drives with negligence or recklessness and kills another person may face manslaughter or murder charges.

Unlike many other states, Maine doesn’t have a “vehicular homicide” statute that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful killings. However, a Maine motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel can be prosecuted under the state’s more general homicide laws. Depending on the circumstances, a fatal accident could result in manslaughter or murder charges against the at-fault driver. 

Driving-Related Homicide Charges

All homicides involve the unlawful killing of another person. The difference between the two types comes down to the mental state of the defendant. Here’s how manslaughter and murder are defined in Maine.

Manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of manslaughter for causing the death of another person while driving in a “criminally negligent” or “reckless” manner. A person acts with criminal negligence by unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use in like circumstances. Recklessness—which is a more culpable mental state—is the same as criminal negligence except the person knowingly does or fails to do something that creates the risk; in other words, the person is aware of but disregards the risk.

Murder. A motorist commits murder by causing the death of another person while driving in a manner that shows a “depraved indifference to the value of human life.”

The difference between manslaughter and murder is a matter of degree. And the dividing line isn’t always clear. However, in general, murder requires proof of a more culpable mental state than recklessness (the mental state for manslaughter). So theoretically, the more egregious the motorist’s driving, the more likely a jury is to convict of murder.

(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 17-A, §§ 35, 201, 203 (2017).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:

  • Manslaughter. Criminally negligent homicide is a class C crime. A conviction generally carries up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 in fines.
  • Murder. Motorists convicted of murder face 25 years to life in prison.
  • OUI offenses involving deaths. A motorist who kills another person while operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol (OUI)—even if not convicted of manslaughter or murder—is guilty of a class B crime and looking at six months to ten years in prison and up to $40,000 in fines.

Motorist convicted of manslaughter or murder face license revocation of at least five years. And drivers convicted of an OUI involving a death will have their license permanently revoked.

(Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 17-A, §§ 201, 203, 1252, 1301, 2411 (2017); Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 29-A, § 2454 (2017).)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, “suspended” sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Murder and manslaughter are serious criminal charges that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for a driving-related killing—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best plan of action. 

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