New Hampshire’s Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives with negligence or recklessness in New Hampshire and kills another person may face homicide, manslaughter, vehicular assault, or murder charges.

Depending on the circumstances, a New Hampshire motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel could face vehicular assault, negligent homicide, manslaughter, or second-degree murder charges. Here’s how New Hampshire defines these four offenses.

Vehicular assault. A motorist can be convicted of vehicular assault for causing the death of another person while driving in a criminally negligent 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.

Negligent homicide. New Hampshire’s negligent homicide law applies to non-driving and driving-related unlawful killings. And while negligent homicide carries more serious penalties than vehicular assault, in the driving context, the two offenses are identically defined. So a motorist who causes the death of another person while driving in a criminally negligent manner can be convicted of vehicular assault or negligent homicide. Prosecutors, therefore, have a choice of whether to charge the more or less serious offense.

Manslaughter. A motorist who kills another person while driving “recklessly” can be charged with manslaughter. A person acts with recklessness by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others; in other words, the motorist is aware of but disregards the risk. 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.

Second-degree murder. A person commits second-degree murder by recklessly engaging in conduct that shows an “extreme indifference to the value human life.”

The difference between manslaughter and second-degree murder is a matter of degree. And the dividing line isn’t always clear. However, in general, second-degree murder requires proof of a more culpable mental state than recklessness (the mental state for manslaughter).

(Also, read about New Hampshire's DUI laws, which can come into play when an impaired driver kills another person while behind the wheel.)

(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 265:79-a, 626:2, 630:1-b, 630:2, 630:3 (2017); State v. Rollins-Ercolino, 149 N.H. 336 (2003).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

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

  • Vehicular assault. Vehicular assault is a class A misdemeanor. A conviction generally carries up to a year in jail and a maximum $2,000 in fines.
  • Negligent homicide. Typically, criminally negligent homicide is a class B felony. A conviction generally carries up to seven years in prison, a maximum $4,000 in fines, and license revocation of up to seven years. However, if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, negligent homicide is a class A felony. Convicted motorists are looking at up to 15 years in prison, a maximum $4,000 in fines, and lifetime license revocation (with the ability to reapply for a license after seven years).
  • Manslaughter. Motorists convicted of manslaughter face up to 30 years in prison and lifetime license revocation.
  • Second-degree murder. Second-degree murder carries up to life in prison.

Except as specified above, any motorist convicted of a driving-related unlawful killing is looking at a license revocation of up to a year.

(N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 265:79-a, 630:1-b, 630:2, 630:3, 263:56, 651:2 (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, manslaughter, negligent homicide, and vehicular assault are serious criminal charges. 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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