Unlike many other states, Kentucky doesn’t have a “vehicular homicide” statute that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful killings. However, a Kentucky motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel can be prosecuted under the state’s more general homicide laws. Depending on the circumstances, a fatal accident could result in reckless homicide, second-degree manslaughter, or murder charges against the at-fault driver.
All homicides involve the unlawful killing of another person. The difference between the three types comes down to the mental state of the defendant. Here’s how reckless homicide, second-degree manslaughter, and murder are defined in Kentucky.
Reckless homicide. A motorist can be convicted of reckless homicide for causing the death of another person while driving in a reckless manner. Kentucky defines recklessness as unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use in like circumstances.
Second-degree manslaughter. A motorist who kills another person while driving “wantonly” can be charged with second-degree manslaughter. A person acts with wantonness by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk to others. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use in like circumstances.
So the difference between recklessness and wantonness—and therefore between reckless homicide and second-degree manslaughter—is whether the defendant was aware of the risk created by the conduct. Generally, a person who was aware of but disregarded the risk is guilty of second-degree manslaughter, whereas a person without such awareness is guilty of reckless homicide.
Murder. A person commits second-degree murder by knowingly engaging in conduct that shows an “extreme indifference to the value human life.”
The difference between second-degree manslaughter and murder is a matter of degree. And the dividing line isn’t always clear. However, in general, murder requires proof of a more culpable mental state than wantonness (the mental state for manslaughter).
(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 501.020, 507.020, 507.040, 507.050 (2017).)
The consequences of a driving-related homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:
Anyone convicted of a driving-related homicide, manslaughter, or murder also faces license revocation.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § § 186.560, 507.020, 507.040, 507.050 (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.
Murder, manslaughter, and reckless homicide are serious criminal charges. If you’ve been arrested for a driving-related killing—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.