West Virginia’s Negligent (Vehicular) Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives recklessly and kills another person will likely face negligent homicide charges.

In West Virginia, a motorist can be charged with “negligent homicide” (also called “vehicular homicide”) for causing the death of another person while driving in reckless disregard for the safety of others.  

Reckless disregard. Generally, a person acts with negligence by failing to use the care that a reasonable person would under like circumstances. Reckless disregard, on the hand, involves more egregious conduct. Basically, a person acts with reckless disregard for the safety of others by knowingly doing something that poses a danger to other people; in other words, the person is aware the act is dangerous but opts to do it anyway.

Causation. A West Virginia driver can be convicted of negligent homicide only if there’s proof that the reckless driving was a legal cause of the death. It’s not enough to merely show the defendant drove recklessly and someone died—there needs to be a direct link between the defendant’s driving and the death.

(W. Va. Code Ann. §, 17C-5-1 (2017); State ex rel. Nelson v. Frye, 221 W. Va. 391 (2007).)

Negligent Homicide Penalties

Negligent homicide is a misdemeanor in West Virginia. Convicted motorists face up to a year in jail and/or a maximum $1,000 in fines. A negligent homicide conviction also results in license revocation for up to a year.

(W. Va. Code Ann. §§ 17B-3-5, 17B-3-8, 17C-5-1 (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

A negligent homicide conviction comes with serious consequences. If you’ve been arrested for negligent 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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