How Does New Jersey Prosecute Vehicular Homicide Cases Stemming from DUI Offenses?

  • Criminal Defense

Understanding the Seriousness of a DUI-Related Vehicular Homicide Charge in New Jersey

DUI charges should never be taken lightly. Whether it is your first offense or not—or whether there are mitigating factors in your case, such as additional charges—ensuring you have a solid criminal defense strategy can help you protect your rights now and your freedom and rights in the future.

Vehicular crimes include driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and vehicular homicide. Your DUI defense can be made more difficult when a DUI charge is related to another charge. For example, if you are charged with a DUI following an accident that caused the death of someone else, you might also face charges of criminal homicide.

What Is Criminal Homicide?

According to New Jersey law, criminal homicide occurs when someone knowingly, purposefully, or recklessly causes the death of another person. The law also indicates that if someone is shown to be operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, there is an inference that they were operating the vehicle recklessly. This is because it is reckless to drive a vehicle when you are not in your full capacity to operate it.

The takeaway here is that if you are convicted of a DUI related to a fatal accident, there is a high likelihood that you may be charged with criminal homicide in that case.

What Must Be Proved to Convict You for Vehicular Homicide in New Jersey?

The prosecution does have some work to do to prove its case, however. In most cases, the prosecution must demonstrate the following facts without a reasonable doubt:

  • That you were operating the vehicle in question at the time of the accident
  • That you were operating the vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while intoxicated beyond the legal limit
  • That you caused the accident in question via reckless operation of the vehicle

Note that simply operating the vehicle while intoxicated is considered reckless, so the prosecution doesn’t necessarily need to demonstrate other reckless behavior, such as speeding. However, it may need to show that your driving caused the accident. If another vehicle was speeding along a highway and failed to stop when you had the legitimate right-of-way, for example, you may have a potential defense against criminal homicide charges.

What Are the Potential Consequences of a DUI-Related Vehicular Homicide Conviction?

Sentencing in these cases can be complex. It depends in part on whether the vehicular homicide is considered a first- or second-degree offense.

First-degree vehicular homicide convictions can come with sentences of 10 to 20 years. Second-degree vehicular homicide convictions can come with sentences of five to 10 years. These convictions typically also include fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In cases involving DUI-related vehicular homicide, a minimum sentence is mandated. This also means there is a minimum amount of time you have to serve before you are eligible for parole. Typically, it is three years or between a third and half of the original sentence, whichever is longer. So, if you are sentenced to 15 years, you are not eligible for parole until you serve at least five to 7.5 of those years.

Is a Defense Possible?

Yes, there are a number of defense strategies that can be employed in such cases. The strategy that is right for your situation will depend on the facts of the case, but some common approaches include:

  • Attacking the breathalyzer or chemical tests. These tests are not infallible, and you may be able to demonstrate that there is a likelihood that the results were inaccurate. You can also work to show that the test was not administered appropriately or that the evidence of the case, including the test, was not handled correctly.
  • Arguing that you did not cause the accident. Even if you are convicted of DUI, if prosecutors can’t make a compelling case that you caused an accident, you may not be convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Presenting evidence that shows you were not likely the cause of the accident can be a potential defense.
  • Showing that your rights were violated. If you can demonstrate that law enforcement violated your rights in the course of the case, or that the case was mishandled by prosecutors, you may be able to get charges dismissed.

The best way to understand your options for a criminal defense in a case involving DUI-related vehicular homicide is to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Someone who understands how the New Jersey courts work and what the details of the law are can provide guidance about your case, including what outcomes you can expect and whether a plea bargain might be in your favor.

The team at The Hernandez Law Firm, PC, is experienced in working with a wide variety of DUI and criminal law cases. Whether you’re facing a DUI conviction or something even more serious, such as a criminal homicide charge related to DUI and a car accident, we can help. Call our team at 732-582-5076 to make an appointment or find out how we can help with your case.

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