In Tennessee, causing the death of another person while behind the wheel can lead to serious criminal charges. This article covers Tennessee's vehicular homicide laws and the penalties you'll face for a conviction.
Tennessee defines "vehicular homicide" as recklessly causing the death of another by driving:
These four categories are all considered vehicular homicide but carry different penalties (see below).
For purposes of Tennessee's vehicular homicide law, a motorist acts recklessly by knowingly doing something that poses a "substantial and unjustifiable risk" to others. In other words, the person is aware of but disregards the risk. And the risk, in regard to nature and degree, must amount to a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would use under like circumstances.
For purposes of Tennessee's vehicular homicide law, "intoxicated" means:
In other words, intoxication can be based on actual impairment or BAC.
A driver can be convicted of vehicular homicide 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 recklessly and someone died—there needs to be a direct link between the defendant's driving and the death.
The consequences of a vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances, including the category. However, the possible penalties for each classification of offense are described below.
A vehicular homicide conviction that's based on driving in a manner that creates a substantial risk of death or serious injury is a class C felony. A class C felony carries three to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
Vehicular homicide related to street racing is a class C felony. (See penalties above.)
A vehicular homicide offense based on a construction zone death is a class D felony. Convicted motorists face two to 12 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
Vehicular homicide involving intoxication is a class B felony. Generally, class B felonies carry eight to 30 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
A defendant who commits vehicular homicide based on intoxication and has at least two prior DUI or vehicular assault convictions, one prior vehicular homicide conviction, or one prior DUI or vehicular assault conviction and had a BAC of .2% or more on the current offense is guilty of "aggravated vehicular homicide." Aggravated vehicular homicide is a class A felony and carries 15 to 60 years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.
All vehicular homicide convictions result in a three-to-ten-year license suspension.
Vehicular homicide is a serious crime that can result in a long prison sentence. 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.