Pennsylvania’s Homicide by Vehicle Laws and Penalties

In Pennsylvania, a motorist can be convicted of “homicide by vehicle” (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter”) for:

  • driving under the influence (DUI) or “recklessly” committing a traffic offense, and
  • as the result of the DUI or traffic violation causes the death of another person.

Recklessness. A person acts recklessly by consciously disregarding a “substantial and unjustifiable risk.” (18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 302(b)(3) (2017).)

Causation. A driver can’t be convicted of homicide by vehicle unless there’s proof that the DUI or traffic offense was a “direct and substantial factor in the death of the victim.” It’s not enough to merely show the defendant was driving under the influence or violated a traffic law and someone died—there needs to be a link between the violation or DUI and the death.

Example: While driving on a suspended license, Jimmy collides with another vehicle. One of the passengers in the other vehicle dies from injuries. Jimmy violated a traffic law by driving on a suspended license. However, he probably can’t be convicted of homicide by vehicle because the traffic violation wasn’t a direct and substantial factor in bringing about the death.

(75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 3732, 3735 (2017); Com. v. Petroll, 696 A.2d 817 (1997).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a Pennsylvania homicide by vehicle conviction depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are:

  • Traffic violation-related offense. Homicide by vehicle based on a traffic violation is a third degree felony. Convicted motorist generally face up to seven years in prison and a maximum $15,000 in fines.
  • DUI-related offense. A DUI-related homicide by vehicle conviction is a second degree felony. A conviction generally carries up to ten years in prison and a maximum $25,000 in fines.

For any homicide by vehicle conviction, the motorist is also looking at a three-year license suspension.

(18 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1103, 1101 (2017); 75 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1532(a.1), 3732, 3735 (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

Homicide by vehicle is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for homicide by vehicle—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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