Pennsylvania's Homicide-by-Vehicle Laws and Penalties

When a motorist drives under the influence or recklessly commits a traffic violation and someone is killed, homicide by vehicle charges may follow.

In Pennsylvania, a motorist can be convicted of "homicide-by-vehicle" (sometimes called "vehicular manslaughter") for:

  • driving under the influence (DUI) or "recklessly" committing a traffic offense, and
  • as the result of the DUI or traffic violation causes the death of another person.

Recklessness. A person acts recklessly by consciously disregarding a "substantial and unjustifiable risk."

Causation. A driver can't be convicted of homicide-by-vehicle unless there's proof that the DUI or traffic offense was a "direct and substantial factor in the death of the victim." It's not enough to merely show the defendant was driving under the influence or violated a traffic law and someone died—there needs to be a link between the violation or DUI and the death.

Example: While driving on a suspended license, Jimmy collides with another vehicle. One of the passengers in the other vehicle dies from injuries. Jimmy violated a traffic law by driving on a suspended license. However, he probably can't be convicted of homicide-by-vehicle because the traffic violation wasn't a direct and substantial factor in bringing about the death.

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a Pennsylvania homicide-by-vehicle conviction depend on the circumstances. But the possible penalties are:

  • Traffic violation-related offense. Homicide-by-vehicle based on a traffic violation is a third-degree felony. Convicted motorist generally face up to seven years in prison and a maximum $15,000 in fines.
  • DUI-related offense. A DUI-related homicide-by-vehicle conviction is a second-degree felony. A conviction generally carries three to ten years in prison (though the minimums can be more depending on the driver's history) and a maximum $25,000 in fines.

For any homicide-by-vehicle conviction, the motorist is also looking at a three-year license suspension.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Homicide-by-vehicle is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you've been arrested for homicide by 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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