Massachusetts’s Homicide-by-Motor-Vehicle Laws and Penalties

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

In Massachusetts, a motorist can be convicted of “homicide by motor vehicle” (also called “vehicular homicide”) for causing the death of another person while driving:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
  • negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered.

Negligence.  A person acts with negligence by doing something that a reasonably careful person would not.  

Under the influence. For purposes of Massachusetts’s vehicular homicide law, “under the influence” means the motorist:

  • is impaired by drugs or alcohol to the extent that the substances ingested “diminished the [person’s] ability to operate a motor vehicle safely,” or
  • has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater.

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

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90, § 24G (2017); Com. v. Guaman, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 36 (2016); Com. v. Connolly, 394 Mass. 169 (1985).)

Homicide by Vehicle Penalties

The consequences of a homicide-by-motor-vehicle conviction depend on the circumstances. However, the possible penalties are:

  • Offenses involving intoxication or negligent driving. Homicide-by-motor-vehicle offenses that involve intoxication or negligent driving (but not both) carry 30 days to two-and-a-half years in jail and/or $300 to $3,000 in fines.
  • Offenses involving intoxication and negligent driving. Homicide-by-motor-vehicle offenses that involve intoxication and negligent driving carry two-and-a-half to 15 years in prison or one to two-and-a-half years in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.

For a first vehicular homicide conviction, there’s a 15-year license revocation. And motorists who are convicted of vehicular homicide for a second time face life-time revocation.

(Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90, § 24G (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.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Homicide by motor vehicle is a serious crime that can result in a long prison sentence. If you’ve been arrested for homicide by motor vehicle—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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