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In cases of criminal negligence, the defendant is commonly charged with unintentional vehicular manslaughter.
Vehicular homicide is similar to the offense, in some countries, of "dangerous driving causing death."
The victim may be either a person not in the car with the offending motorist (such as a pedestrian, cyclist, or another motorist), or a passenger in the vehicle with the offender.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death, absent any of the remaining 5 elements mentioned above, is 14 years' imprisonment. The maximum penalty is otherwise life imprisonment. Anyone sentenced to life imprisonment for a Criminal Code driving offence is eligible to apply for parole after serving 7 years, but there is no guarantee of parole.
In the United Kingdom, there is no offense of "vehicular homicide". Where a vehicle has been used as a weapon as part of a deliberate assault; and the intention was to kill or cause serious injury; and that assault resulted in the death of the victim then the driver may be charged with murder contrary to the Common Law.
Where death is the result of driving that falls short of a deliberate assault, the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 88) governs the disposal of the case. The offenses created by this act relating to road deaths are as follows ...
The RTA 88 introduced the simple concept of dangerousness by removing the offence of "reckless driving" as the concept of recklessness in UK law requires a mens rea. This had been difficult to prove in court. C. M. V. Clarkson, an advocate of a vehicular homicide offense, opines that while people's perceptions are that death resulting from a motor vehicle is in a different "family" to other killings, "in terms of fault there can be little distinction between those who kill through the dangerous operation of their cars and those who kill with machines, trains, etc."
In addition to the above there also exists the option of charging offenders with causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving.
Originally framed in the era of horse-drawn vehicles this legislation is now applied where offences involving motorised vehicles take place outside the provisions of the Road Traffic Act (on private land, when driving off-road or in pedestrianised areas) and in the small number of serious cases involving non-motorised collisions such as the few that involve cyclists and result in severe injury or loss of life, typically of pedestrians.
The definition and penalties of vehicular manslaughter in the United States vary by state.
All states except Alaska, Montana, and Arizona have vehicular homicide statutes. The laws have the effect of making a vehicle a potentially deadly weapon, to allow for easier conviction and more severe penalties; in states without such statutes, defendants can still be charged with manslaughter or murder in some situations.
In the Model Penal Code, there is no distinction between vehicular homicide and vehicular homicides that involve negligence; instead, both are included in the overall category of negligent homicide.
In the state of California, depending on the degree of recklessness and whether alcohol was involved, a person could be charged with progressively more serious offenses: vehicular manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, or second-degree murder. In any of these cases, the prosecution must prove that the driver committed some wrongful act (which could be a felony, a misdemeanor, an infraction, or a lawful act that might cause death) and that the wrongful act caused the collision and the death of the victim. Murder charges are usually reserved for the most egregious cases, such as a convicted DUI offender who drives recklessly while intoxicated and thereby causes a fatal collision.
In the state of Georgia, vehicular homicide is more properly known as homicide by vehicle. It is defined, by statute, as the unlawful killing of another person using a vehicle. To be guilty of the offense, the perpetrator does not have to have an intent to kill, malice aforethought, or premeditation.
There are two degrees of vehicular homicide:
In the state of Louisiana, vehicular homicide is defined as the killing of a human being while operating a motor vehicle, or other means of conveyance, under the influence of alcohol and/or controlled substances. The minimum punishment is a fine of at least $2,000 (not more than $15,000) and 5-30 years in prison.
In the state of Minnesota, vehicular homicide is one of the six levels of criminal vehicular operation, and is defined as causing the death of a person, that does not constitute murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in a grossly negligent manner, or in a negligent manner while in violation of the driving while intoxicated law, or where the driver flees the scene in violation of the felony fleeing law. Vehicular homicide in Minnesota requires, at a minimum, a mens rea of gross negligence.
Vehicular homicide in Washington state, is governed by RCW 46.61.520 Vehicular homicide--Penalty.
A study by professors at Dartmouth College and Harvard University found that those convicted of vehicular homicide are given, on average, shorter sentences than those found guilty of other types of homicide. The study found that the gender of the offender does not statistically affect the length of the sentence, but the race does. The identity of the victim is a more important predictor of sentencing length, with longer sentences given to offenders in cases where the victim was female and/or had no violent criminal record.
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