Hawaii has three degrees of “negligent homicide” (sometimes called “vehicular homicide”). First-degree negligent homicide—the most serious type—involves causing the death of:
another person while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
a “vulnerable user” while driving in a “negligent” manner.
Second-degree negligent homicide is defined as causing the death of:
another person while driving in a negligent manner, or
a vulnerable user while driving in a manner that constitutes “simple negligence.”
And third-degree negligent homicide is where a motorist kills another person while driving in a manner amounting to simple negligence.
Under the influence. For purposes of the automobile homicide statute, “under the influence” means having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more, having an amount of alcohol in the body sufficient to impair normal mental faculties or the ability to care for others and guard against casualty, or having an amount of drugs in the body sufficient to impair the ability to operate a vehicle in a careful and prudent manner. (Read about Hawaii's impaired driving laws.)
Negligence and simple negligence. The difference between first, second, and third-degree negligent homicide can come down to whether the motorist drove with “simple negligence” or “negligence.” A person acts with simple negligence by doing or failing to do something that the person should know poses a risk to others. The law assumes a person “should know” of a risk if a law-abiding person under like circumstances would have been aware of the risk. A person acts with negligence, on the other hand, by doing or failing to do something that the person should know poses a “substantial and unjustifiable” 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 law-abiding person would have done under like circumstances.
Vulnerable users. “Vulnerable users” includes pedestrians lawfully on the street or public highway, road and emergency workers engaged in work on a street or public highway, persons on bicycles and mopeds, and persons in wheelchairs.
The consequences of a negligent homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:
First-degree negligent homicide. First-degree negligent homicide is a class B felony. A conviction carries up to ten years in prison and a maximum $25,000 in fines.
Second-degree negligent homicide. Second-degree negligent homicide is a class C felony. Convicted motorists face up to five years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.
Third-degree negligent homicide. Third-degree negligent homicide is a third-degree misdemeanor. A conviction is punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum $2,000 in fines.
All drivers convicted of first- or second-degree negligent homicide face license revocation. The length of revocation is determined by the sentencing judge.
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.
Negligent homicide is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. 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.