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What should you know about “death by auto” charges in New Jersey?

No one ever wants to be responsible for taking a life, but it can happen --often due to motor vehicle crashes. Even when accidental, those responsible for the death of another risk severe criminal penalties if convicted. All states have specific laws governing what happens to the person found responsible for a vehicular fatality. In New Jersey, these fatalities fall under the “death by auto” statute.

Not just cars and trucks

Although most call it the "death by auto" law, understand that the full term is death by auto or vessel. It means you don’t need to be operating a land vehicle when the death occurred to face charges. The law applies to those operating water vessels as well.

Penalties are worse if the crash is near a school

If the fatality occurred near school property, including real estate or structures a school uses, the circumstances are much direr. Outside of educational property, defendants can expect second-degree felony charges with possible penalties (upon conviction) like years of imprisonment and costly fines. If the incident involves a school or its property, the charge automatically becomes a first-degree felony. Conviction means you may face an increased prison sentence (up to 20 years), even if the facility was closed or vacant.

It doesn’t have to involve alcohol

Most people believe these charges only arise in fatalities involving alcohol or drugs. If sober but reckless driving causes a loss of life, the defendant will likely still face death by auto or vessel charges. However, such charges may also arise if death occurs due to auto or boat operator’s incapacitation by drugs. The serious consequences you could face make it worthwhile to seek legal guidance. This can help you explore possible defenses that could make a difference in the outcome of your case.

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