Minnesota’s Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

When grossly negligent or impaired driving results in the death of person or unborn child, the driver can face felony vehicular homicide charges.

In Minnesota, a driver can be convicted of felony criminal vehicular homicide for causing the death of a person or unborn child as a result of operating a vehicle:

  • in a “grossly negligent” manner
  • in a negligent manner while in violation of Minnesota’s DUI laws, or
  • after having been issued a citation for defective maintenance of the vehicle and not fixing the issue (the unresolved issue having created a safety risk and caused the death).

A motorist can also be convicted of vehicular manslaughter for causing a fatal collision and leaving the scene, in violation of the hit-and-run law.

What is “gross negligence?” The term “gross negligence” means extreme negligence or acting without the slightest care about the risk of harm to others. In other words, the driver is completely oblivious of his or her actions and what harm may result.

(Minn. Stat. §§ 609.2112, 609.2114 (2016); State v. Hegstrom, 543 N.W.2d 698 (1996))

USE OF MANSLAUGHTER CHARGES

Although not as common, a driver can be charged with manslaughter resulting from the operation of a vehicle. There are two classifications of manslaughter: first-degree (voluntary) manslaughter and second-degree (involuntary) manslaughter. First-degree manslaughter is a 15-year felony and requires proof of intent to cause death. Second-degree manslaughter is a ten-year felony, similar to criminal vehicular homicide, but requires a higher standard of proof—“culpable negligence.”

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a criminal vehicular homicide conviction depend on the offender’s criminal history. Generally, the offense carries a maximum ten years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine. However, if the defendant committed a “qualified prior driving offense” within ten years of the current offense, the maximum penalty is raised to 15 years in prison.

A “qualified prior driving offense” includes:

  • first and second-degree DWI (typically, a third or subsequent DWI)
  • criminal vehicle homicide involving alcohol or drugs, and
  • criminal vehicular injury involving alcohol or drugs.

Upon arrest for criminal vehicular homicide, a driver’s license is immediately suspended. A conviction involving alcohol or drugs results in license revocation for six to ten years—depending on the person’s past impaired driving record. All other criminal vehicular homicide convictions carry a ten-year revocation. There’s a one-year wait period before a driver can apply for a limited license. (A limited license is to drive to and from places like work and substance abuse treatment.)

(Minn. Stat. §§ 171.17, 171.187, 171.30, 171.306, 609.2111, 609.2112, 609.2114 (2016).)

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 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

Criminal vehicular homicide is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for criminal vehicular homicide—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.

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