Utah’s Automobile (Vehicular) Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who causes the death of another person while under the influence or unlawfully using a cellphone will likely face automobile homicide charges.

In Utah, a person can be convicted of “automobile homicide” (sometimes called “vehicular homicide”) for causing the death of another person while driving in a negligent or criminally negligent manner and:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
  • unlawfully using a cellphone or other wireless communication device.

Negligence (“simple negligence”) and criminal negligence. An automobile homicide conviction requires proof that the driver was at least negligent. And more severe penalties apply if the driver was criminally negligent. A person acts with simple negligence by failing to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would under like circumstances. With criminal negligence, the defendant not only fails to exercise reasonable care, but also acts in a way that poses a substantial risk to others—the degree and nature of the risk being substantial enough so that the failure to perceive it amounts to a gross deviation from what a prudent person would have done.

Under the influence. For purposes of the automobile homicide statute, “under the influence” means the person had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more or was impaired by drugs or alcohol to a degree that rendered the person incapable of driving safely.

Illegal cellphone or wireless device use. Generally, Utah law prohibits using a cellphone or wireless device to write, send, or read a written communication. The prohibition includes text messages, email, dialing a phone number, and viewing and recording videos. (Read more about Utah’s law restricting wireless device use while driving.)

Causation. A motorist can’t be convicted of automobile homicide unless there’s proof that the motorist’s driving was a legal cause of the death. In other words, there needs to be a direct link between the defendant’s driving and the death. 

(Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-2-103, 76-5-207, 76-5-207.5 (2017).)

Automobile Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a Utah automobile homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are:

  • Offenses involving simple negligence. Generally, automobile homicide that involves simple negligence is a third degree felony. Convicted drivers face up to five years in prison and a maximum $5,000 in fines.
  • Criminally negligent offenses. Automobile homicide committed with criminal negligence is a second degree felony. A conviction carries one to 15 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.
  • DUI-related offense with DUI prior conviction. Where an automobile homicide offense is based on driving under the influence and the motorist has a prior DUI conviction, the crime is a second degree felony (see penalties above) regardless of whether committed with simple or criminal negligence.

All drivers convicted of automobile homicide are looking at least a one-year license revocation.

(Utah Code Ann. §§ 53-3-220, 53-3-225, 76-3-203, 76-3-301 (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

Automobile homicide is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for automobile 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. 

 

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