North Dakota’s Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives while under the influence in North Dakota and causes the death of another person will likely face vehicular homicide charges.

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

Vehicular homicide. Criminal vehicular homicide is defined as causing the death of another person while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in violation of North Dakota’s DUI laws. A person who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more or is impaired by drugs or alcohol to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely driving is considered “under the influence.”

Negligent homicide. A motorist can be convicted of negligent homicide for causing the death of another person while driving in a “negligent” manner. Basically, a person acts with negligence by unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial 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.

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

Murder. A motorist can be convicted of murder to causing the death of another person while driving in a manner that shows “extreme 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, in theory, the more egregious the motorist’s actions, the more likely a jury is to convict of murder.

(N.D. Cent. Code Ann. §§ 12.1-02-02, 12.1-16-01, 12.1-16-02, 12.1-16-03, 39-08-01, 39-08-01.2 (2017); State v. Ohnstad, 359 N.W.2d 827 (1984).)

Penalties

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

  • Vehicular homicide. Vehicular assault is a class A felony. A conviction carries three to 20 years in prison and a maximum $20,000 in fines.
  • Negligent homicide. Negligent homicide is a class C felony. Convicted motorists face up to five years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.
  • Manslaughter. Manslaughter is a class B felony. A conviction carries up to ten years in prison and a maximum $20,000 in fines.
  • Murder. Murder is generally a class AA felony. Those convicted of murder are looking at up to life in prison.

All motorists convicted of a driving-related unlawful killing are looking at a license revocation of up to a year.

(N.D. Cent. Code Ann. §§ 12.1-16-01, 12.1-16-02, 12.1-16-03, 12.1-32-01, 39-06-31, 39-08-01.2 (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 homicide 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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