Montana’s Negligent and Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who kills another person while driving negligently or under the influence of drugs or alcohol will likely face homicide charges.

In Montana, a motorist who causes the death of another person while driving negligently can be charged with “negligent homicide.” Montana also has a more serious charge called “vehicular manslaughter while under the influence” that applies to drivers who negligently kill another person while in violation of the state’s DUI laws.

Negligence. For purposes of Montana’s negligent and vehicular homicide laws, a motorist acts negligently by driving in a manner that poses a risk to others where the motorist consciously disregards or should be, but isn’t, aware of the risk. And the risk—in regard to nature and degree—must amount to a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use under like circumstances. In other words, the motorist takes a substantial risk while driving that an ordinary reasonable person would not take.

Causation. A driver can be convicted of negligent or vehicular homicide only if there’s proof that the driver was a legal cause of the death. It’s not enough to merely show the defendant drove negligently and someone died—there needs to be a direct link between the defendant’s driving and the death.

Under the influence. For purposes of Montana’s vehicular homicide law, “under the influence” means the motorist:

  • is impaired by drugs or alcohol to an extent that the motorist’s “ability to safely operate a vehicle has been diminished”
  • has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater, or
  • has a concentration of five nanograms or more of THC (the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per milliliter of blood.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-2-101, 45-5-104, 45-5-106, 61-8-401, 61-8-406, 61-8-411 (2017).)

Negligent and Vehicular Homicide Penalties

Negligent and vehicular homicide are felony offenses in Montana. Negligent homicide carries up to 20 years in prison and/or a maximum $50,000 in fines. A motorist convicted of vehicular homicide faces up to 30 years in prison and/or a maximum $50,000 in fines. Both convictions result in a one-year license revocation. And a negligent homicide violation adds 12 points to the motorist’s driving record.

(Mont. Code Ann. §§ 45-5-104, 45-5-106, 61-5-205 (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 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

Negligent and vehicular homicide are serious crimes that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for negligent or 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 and help you decide on the best plan of action. 

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