Drivers who are accused of causing fatal accidents by driving recklessly will in most circumstances be prosecuted for violating New Jersey’s vehicular homicide statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5. The majority of drivers prosecuted for vehicular homicide are accused of impaired driving resulting from high blood alcohol concentrations or the ingestion of drugs. In other cases, sleep deprivation may give rise to the accusation of reckless driving.
Since most cases involve an allegation of drunken driving, vehicular homicide will be examined in the context of driving while intoxicated. Proof that the driver was operating under the influence of alcohol will give rise to an inference that the operator was driving recklessly. The prosecutor, however, is still required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the reckless driving caused the accident.
In New Jersey, a driver with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. Normally, a person’s blood alcohol level is measured by a breath testing device called the Alcotest. In fatal accident cases, however, the police more often prefer to have blood drawn from the driver because of its alleged greater accuracy than breath testing devices. Recently both the United States Supreme Court and the New Jersey Supreme Court have ruled that absent exceptional circumstances and without the consent of the driver, the police have to obtain a Court authorized warrant before blood can be drawn at their request.
A conviction for vehicular homicide in New Jersey carries serious penalties. Vehicular homicide is a second degree crime carrying up to ten years in prison. A person convicted of vehicular homicide must serve 85% of his or her maximum sentence without parole but at a minimum must serve at least three years before he or she is eligible for parole. Upon the completion of the prison sentence, he or she will also face a driver’s license suspension of between 5 years to life.
The defense of a vehicular homicide charge often involves the use of expert testimony to challenge how the prosecution alleges that the accident occurred and the manner in which the blood or breath samples were taken and how their results are interpreted. The proofs in a vehicular homicide case are often complex and technical. Vehicular homicide cases are traumatizing not only to the family of the person who died in the accident but to the person accused of the accident as well. The driver must deal with the remorse of being involved in a fatal accident as well as his or her anxiety about the outcome of the case.
At Agre & St. John, we have defended numerous cases involving the charge of vehicular homicide. Our criminal lawyers in South Jersey understand the complexities of such cases. Just as importantly, however, we understand the emotional toll such charges take on the person accused of the crime as well as on his or her family. We offer our services to guide a person accused of vehicular homicide through this traumatic experience. Call us today at (856) 428-7797 or contact us online.