Vehicular manslaughter refers to the crime of accidentally killing someone while driving irresponsibly. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI), not following traffic rules, or exceeding speed limits are all examples of irresponsible driving.
Accidents resulting from negligent and illegal driving practices may cause the death of pedestrians, passengers of the driver’s car, or those present in vehicle(s) that the driver collided with. Loss of any of these lives is considered the outcome of a crime for which the driver must be charged and ultimately punished. The driver is considered at fault because s/he drives under prohibited conditions, knowing very well that the consequences of their action might be fatal for someone.
Below mentioned are some of the driving practices that are punishable in the court of law following a life-threatening accident.
Ordinary negligence means not observing caution that is ordinarily required while driving. For example, momentarily turning while talking to someone in the passenger seat may result in an accident, and hence be considered as an act of carelessness. Some states consider such acts of negligent driving punishable if the resulting accident causes someone to lose their life.
Certain states, however, only charge drivers with a vehicular manslaughter case if the act of carelessness falls under criminal negligence rather than ordinary negligence. Criminal negligence refers to driving practices that disregard others` safety knowingly and consciously as compared to ordinary negligence, which is an unintentional mishap resulting from a brief moment of distraction.
Examples of criminal negligence include non-compliance to traffic signal indicators, driving at the wrong side of the road, and exceeding speed limits.
Driving while intoxicated
It is a commonly known fact that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is strictly prohibited. Those who still choose to carry out such an activity put their lives, as well as those of others at risk. This is the most common cause of vehicular manslaughter cases.
Medical tests, acknowledgment by the defendant, and testimony by eye-witnesses are all means of proving that the offender was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Vehicular manslaughter charges are not just limited to the above-mentioned scenarios but may also include other safety violations that the law considers as acts of irresponsibility; such as driving in prohibited areas, not taking into account the road signs, driving with obscured windshields that may hinder the driver’s view, etc.
What are the penalties?
Punishment for vehicular manslaughter may vary according to the type of offense that caused the accident. For example, laws in most states have stricter consequences for drunk driving as compared to other forms of irresponsible driving. The exact penalty depends on state laws and case-specific circumstances. For example, in the state of Alabama vehicular manslaughter resulting from DUI can be charged with a sentence of up to 5 years while in Minnesota the punishment can be as severe as up to 30 years of prison time.
According to the law in Indiana, a convict of vehicular manslaughter may get sentenced to up to 6 years, along with having a fine imposed that may be as high as $10,000. Not only this, but the individual may also be banned from driving for about 2-5 years.
Furthermore, punishments also vary depending on how states classify the crime. While some categorize the incident as a felony or a misdemeanor after taking into account the circumstances under which the accident took place, others consider it a felony regardless of the situation.
Besides being convicted on criminal grounds, the perpetrator of vehicular manslaughter may also be sued for wrongful death by family members of the deceased. As a result, the offender may be ordered by a civil court to pay a huge monetary amount to the family as compensation. This is likely to cause further stress to the convict.
What if the driver is not at fault?
Accidents may also be caused by the negligence of the victim or the actions of a third party. Hence, the driver is not always at fault. Pedestrians who cross the road incautiously, and at the wrong times are one example of careless victims. Therefore, occasionally such individuals, as well as other parties whose actions may affect the driver`s competency, may also be held responsible and treated as an offender.
Sometimes the victim and the defendant are equally at fault. For example, the accident may have been caused because both of them were exceeding the maximum speed limit, but one of the drivers, unfortunately, passed away leaving the others to face charges of vehicular manslaughter. In such cases, the defendant usually gets a concession by the civil court because of “contributory negligence”. This is a theory which states that when both parties are responsible for an incident to a certain extent, one should not be solely made to bear all the consequences. However, this theory is usually not taken into account by the criminal court that focuses more on the mistake(s) of the defendant rather than the deceased.
One must immediately take legal help for a vehicular manslaughter case as it involves too many technicalities. If the defendant believes s/he is innocent, even then they would need to get a lawyer on board whose expertise lies in uncovering the true cause of the accident and investigating the extent to which other parties were responsible for the incident.
However, the aim of all drivers must be to avoid any such circumstances in the first place. Therefore, safe and careful driving must be ensured to prevent a loss of precious lives, irrespective of whoever may be at fault.
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