Oregon’s Vehicular Homicide and Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives negligently or recklessly in Oregon and kills another person may face manslaughter or homicide charges.

An Oregon motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel may be looking at criminal charges. Depending on the circumstances, a driving-related killing can result in a criminally negligent homicide, second-degree manslaughter, first-degree manslaughter, or aggravated vehicular homicide conviction.

This article explains how Oregon defines these offenses and the consequences of a conviction.

Criminally negligent homicide. A motorist who causes the death of another person while driving in a “criminally negligent” manner can be charged with criminally negligent homicide. Basically, a person acts with criminal negligence by unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to others. The person’s action or inaction must amount to a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would do under like circumstances.

Second-degree manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of second-degree manslaughter for killing another person while driving in a reckless manner. Basically, a person acts recklessly by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to others. In other words, the person is aware of but disregards the dangerousness of the conduct. The person’s action or inaction must amount to a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do under like circumstances.

First-degree manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of first-degree manslaughter for killing another person while:

  • recklessly driving in a manner that shows an “extreme indifference to the value of human life,” or
  • driving with recklessness or criminal negligence and in violation of the state’s DUI (driving under the influence) laws, if the motorist has either three prior  DUI convictions that occurred within the past ten years or a prior driving-related assault conviction involving serious bodily injury.

Aggravated vehicular homicide. A motorist can be convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide for causing the death of another person while in violation of the state’s DUI laws if the driver:

  • was at least criminally negligent, and
  • has a prior driving-related manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide conviction.

(Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 161.085, 163.118, 163.125, 163.145, 163.149 (2017).)

How Oregon Defines DUI

Oregon’s DUI laws prohibit driving while:

A person is considered “under the influence” if the person’s “physical or mental facilities are adversely affected to a noticeable or perceptible degree.”

(Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 813.010 (2017); State v. Stroup, 147 Or. App. 118 (1997).)

Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related killing depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties include:

  • Criminally negligent homicide. Criminally negligent homicide is a class B felony. A convicted motorist is typically looking at 35 to 40 months in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. However, for DUI-related offenses, the prison time generally ranges from 61 to 65 months.
  • Second-degree manslaughter. Second-degree manslaughter is a class B felony. A convicted motorist is typically looking at 35 to 40 months in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. However, for DUI-related offenses, the prison time generally ranges from 61 to 65 months.
  • First-degree manslaughter. First-degree manslaughter is a class A felony. A convicted motorist is typically looking at 121 to 130 months in prison and up to $375,000 in fines.
  • Aggravated vehicular homicide. Aggravated vehicular homicide is a class A felony. A convicted motorist is typically looking at 121 to 130 months in prison and up to $375,000 in fines.

(Or. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 161.625, 163.118, 163.125, 163.145, 163.147, 163.149 (2017); Or. Admin. R. 213-017-0002, 213-017-0004 (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. And the sentences discussed in this article are based on Oregon’s “sentencing guidelines.” Judges usually follow these guidelines. But in most cases, a judge is free to sentence a defendant to more or less time than what the guidelines specify.

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

The consequences of killing another person while driving can be serious. 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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