Delaware's Vehicular Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives negligently or while under the influence and kills another person will likely face vehicular homicide charges.

Delaware has two types of vehicular homicide: first degree and second degree. Second degree vehicular homicide involves causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle:

  • in a criminally negligent manner, or
  • in a negligent manner while in violation of Delaware’s DUI laws.

The more serious of the two charges—first degree vehicular homicide—is defined as causing the death of another while driving in a criminally negligent manner and in violation of the state’s DUI laws.

So, for a motorist who kills another person while under the influence, the distinction between first and second degree vehicular homicide comes down to mental state. If the motorist was negligent, the offense is second degree. But if the motorist was criminally negligent—a more culpable mental state—the crime is first degree vehicular homicide.

Difference between negligence and criminal negligence.  The difference between negligence and criminal negligence is a matter of degree. Negligence involves 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.

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

(Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § § 231, 231A, 630 (2017).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

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

  • Second degree offense. Second degree vehicular homicide is a class D felony. Convicted motorists face one to eight years in prison, fines in an amount deemed appropriate by the court, and a three-year license revocation.
  • First degree offense. First degree vehicular homicide is a class C felony. A conviction generally carries two to 15 years in prison, fines in an amount deemed appropriate by the court, and a four-year license revocation.

(Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § § 231, 231A, 4205 (2017); Del. Code Ann. tit. 21, § 2732 (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 vehicular homicide conviction comes with serious consequences. If you’ve been arrested for vehicular 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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