O.C.G.A. § 40-6-393 is the Homicide by Vehicle statute.
Under this statute, a person commits a Homicide by Vehicle when he or she, without malice aforethought, causes the death of another person while:
- Improperly passing a school bus under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-163;
- Driving recklessly under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390;
- DUI under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-391; or
- Fleeing or attempting to elude a law enforcement officer under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-395;
- Causing an accident which results in the death of another person and leaves the scene of the accident in violation of O.C.G.A. § 40-6-270; or
- Causing the death of another person by violating any provision of law other than those listed above.
Vehicular Homicide may be charged as a Felony or as a Misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the case and the underlying offense(s). This affects the possible outcomes for a conviction.
Vehicular Homicide Penalties
|Causing the death of another person while improperly passing school bus||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 3 years but not more than 15 years imprisonment|
|Causing the death of another person while driving recklessly||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 3 years but not more than 15 years imprisonment|
|Causing the death of another person while DUI||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 3 years but not more than 15 years imprisonment|
|Causing the death of another person while fleeing/attempting to elude law enforcement||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 3 years but not more than 15 years imprisonment|
|Causing an accident that results in death and leaving the scene of the accident||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 3 years but not more than 15 years imprisonment|
|Causing the death of another person while driving as a Habitual Violator on a revoked license||Felony / 1st Degree||At least 5 years but not more than 20 years imprisonment|
|Causing the death of another person by violating traffic laws other than those specifically listed above||Misdemeanor/2nd Degree||Up to one year imprisonment, or
Up to one year probation, and/or
A fine of up to $1,000
It is important to note that multiple counts of Homicide by Vehicle do not merge for sentencing purposes. This means that a person who causes a single accident resulting in the death of 3 people may be charged with 3 counts of Homicide by Vehicle, and may be sentenced for each count. Cox v. State, 243 Ga.App. 688 (2000). Because of this, it is easy to see how a conviction for Homicide by Vehicle may result in a lengthy prison term.
Defenses in Vehicular Homicide Cases
1. The State is unable to prove the underlying offense.
A conviction for vehicular homicide requires proof that the defendant committed one of the underlying traffic offenses, such as DUI, reckless driving, or fleeing and eluding law enforcement. That means that, if the State cannot provide the jury with such proof, a conviction for the vehicular homicide charge cannot stand. For this reason, a criminal defense attorney who is skilled and knowledgeable about DUI and other traffic offenses is invaluable in a vehicular homicide case. Not all criminal defense attorneys have this experience.
2. The accused driver’s actions were not the actual cause of the victim’s death.
The death of another person is, of course, a tragedy. That said, sometimes an accident is caused by a terrible series of circumstances rather than by one person’s criminal actions. Before a person is convicted of a very serious offense like vehicular homicide, care must be taken to ensure that an innocent person is not blamed for an accident that ultimately was not his/her fault.
To secure a conviction for vehicular homicide, the State must prove that the Defendant’s criminal act was the actual cause of the victim’s death. If it fails to do so, a conviction cannot stand. This requires a detailed analysis of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident by an experienced criminal defense attorney.
If the accident was actually a result of the victim’s actions, the defendant cannot be held responsible. For example, a defendant in a vehicular homicide case may present evidence that the other driver was impaired by drug use and therefore less able to avoid a fatal accident. Such evidence may not, however, be put forward if the only reason for doing so would be to impugn the person’s character. This is “because the conduct of all drivers involved in the accident is relevant to the extent it may impact the jury’s determination of which driver’s actions caused the fatality or whether the fatality resulted from an unavoidable accident.” Crowe v. State, 277 Ga. 513 (2004).
Why hire an attorney in a Vehicular Homicide case?
Because the penalties can be so incredibly harsh, it is imperative that you hire an attorney with experience in Vehicular Homicide cases. Your Georgia Traffic Court Attorney must be well-versed in serious accident cases as well as the underlying traffic offenses because a defense to the underlying offense can often be a defense to the vehicular homicide charge.
Even misdemeanor vehicular homicide is an incredibly serious charge. Don’t go to court alone. Call me today.