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.

In Delaware, causing the death of another person while behind the wheel can lead to serious criminal charges. This article covers Delaware's vehicular homicide laws and the penalties you'll face for a conviction.

How Does Delaware Define Vehicular Homicide?

Delaware has two types of vehicular homicide: first-degree and second-degree.

Second-Degree Vehicular Homicide in Delaware

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.

In other words, there are two different types of second-degree vehicular homicide.

First-Degree Vehicular Homicide in Delaware

First-degree vehicular homicide—which is the more serious classification—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.

Differences Between Negligence and Criminal Negligence Under Delaware Law

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.

Delaware's Vehicle Homicide Law Requires Proof of "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.

Delaware's Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties for first- and second-degree convictions are as follows.

Second-Degree Vehicular Homicide Penalties in Delaware

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 Vehicular Homicide Penalties in Delaware

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.

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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