New Jersey’s Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties
When a motorist drives recklessly and someone is killed, vehicular homicide charges may follow.
In New Jersey, a person can be convicted of “vehicular homicide” (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter”) for causing the death of another person by operating a vehicle or boat recklessly.
Recklessness. A person operates a vehicle or boat recklessly by consciously disregarding a “substantial and unjustifiable risk.” In other words, the person knows the manner of driving or boating poses a significant danger to others but decides to do it anyway.
Causation. A driver can’t be convicted of vehicular homicide unless there’s proof that the reckless driving was a cause of the victim’s death. It’s not enough to merely show the defendant drove recklessly and someone died—there needs to be a link between the reckless driving and the death.
Permissible inferences. If the prosecution proves certain circumstances, the jury can—but doesn’t have to—infer the defendant was operating the vehicle or boat recklessly. These include:
- falling asleep at the wheel or operating a vehicle or boating having not slept for more than 24 hours
- driving while intoxicated (DWI)
- boating while intoxicated (BWI), and
- using a cellphone while driving.
Some of these circumstances can also increase the penalties for a vehicular homicide conviction. (See below.)
(N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:2-2, 2C:11-5 (2017).)
Vehicular Homicide Penalties
The consequences of a vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:
- Standard vehicular homicide. In most cases, vehicular homicide is a second degree crime. A conviction generally carries between five and ten years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. However, the offender may become eligible for parole release prior to completing the entire prison sentence.
- Offenses involving intoxication or a suspended license. Defendants who commit vehicular homicide while intoxicated or on a license that was suspended for a DWI or BWI are guilty of a second degree crime and subject to the standard penalties (see above.) However, these offenders additionally face a minimum prison term of at least three years. An offender can’t become eligible for parole until the minimum term is complete. Defendants who were intoxicated while committing vehicular homicide also face a license suspension of five years to life.
- Aggravated vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide committed within 1,000 feet of a school or in a school crossing is considered an aggravated offense. Aggravated vehicular manslaughter is a first degree crime. Anyone convicted faces a ten-to-20-year prison sentence and up to $200,000 in fines.
(N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:43-3, 2C:11-5, 2C:43-6 (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
Vehicular homicide is a serious crime in New Jersey. If you’ve been arrested for 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.