Utah's Automobile (Vehicular) Homicide Laws and Penalties

A motorist who causes the death of another person while under the influence or unlawfully using a cellphone will likely face automobile homicide charges.

In Utah, causing the death of another person while behind the wheel can lead to serious criminal charges. This article covers Utah's "automobile homicide" (also called "vehicular homicide") laws and the penalties you'll face for a conviction.

How Does Utah Define Automobile Homicide (Vehicular Homicide)?

In Utah, a person can be convicted of automobile homicide for causing the death of another person while driving in a negligent or criminally negligent manner and:

  • under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or
  • unlawfully using a cell phone or other wireless communication device.

Within this definition are several classes of offenses that carry different penalties.

Differences Between Negligence ("Simple Negligence") and Criminal Negligence Under Utah Law

An automobile homicide conviction requires proof that the driver was at least negligent. And more severe penalties apply if the driver was criminally negligent.

A person acts with simple negligence by failing to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would under like circumstances. With criminal negligence, the defendant not only fails to exercise reasonable care but also acts in a way that poses a substantial 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 prudent person would have done.

How Utah Law Defines "Under the Influence"

For purposes of the automobile homicide statute, "under the influence" means the person had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more or was impaired by drugs or alcohol to a degree that rendered the person incapable of driving safely.

Utah's Cell Phone or Wireless Device Use Rules

Generally, Utah law prohibits using a cell phone or wireless device to write, send, or read a written communication. The prohibition includes text messages, email, dialing a phone number, and viewing and recording videos. (Read more about Utah's law restricting wireless device use while driving.)

Utah Law Requires Proof of "Causation" for a Vehicular Homicide Conviction

A motorist can't be convicted of automobile homicide unless there's proof that the motorist's driving was a legal cause of the death. In other words, there needs to be a direct link between the defendant's driving and the death.

Utah's Automobile Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a Utah automobile homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. However, the possible penalties for the different classes of offenses are described below.

Penalties for Vehicular Homicide Involving Simple Negligence in Utah

Generally, automobile homicide that involves simple negligence is a third-degree felony. Convicted drivers face up to five years in prison and a maximum of $5,000 in fines.

Penalties for Vehicular Homicide Involving Criminal Negligence in Utah

Automobile homicide committed with criminal negligence is a second-degree felony. A conviction carries one to 15 years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines.

Penalties for Vehicular Homicide Involving DUIs with a Prior in Utah

Where an automobile homicide offense is based on driving under the influence and the motorist has a prior DUI conviction, the crime is a second-degree felony (see penalties above) regardless of whether committed with simple or criminal negligence.

All drivers convicted of automobile homicide are looking at least a one-year license revocation.

Talk to a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

Automobile homicide is a serious criminal charge that can result in a long prison sentence. If you've been arrested for automobile 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.

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