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Elements of Vehicular Homicide

Elements of Vehicular Homicide

Vehicular homicide statutes vary, but generally vehicular homicide occurs where someone causes the death of a human being, not constituting murder or manslaughter, as a result of operating a motor vehicle in one of the four following ways:

  • in a grossly negligent manner,
  • in a negligent manner while under the influence of alcohol, a controlled substance, or any combination of those elements,
  • while having an alcohol concentration of 0.10 or more, or
  • while having an alcohol concentration of 0.10 or more within two hours of the time of driving.

For vehicular homicide, the motor vehicle must be the instrumentality causing death. Generally, the term ”motor vehicle” includes vehicles that are designed primarily to transport people or property on public highways and propelled by means other than muscular power. Motor vehicles include automobiles, sport utility vehicles, vans, motorcycles, buses, and trucks. In some states, airplanes and motorboats are considered motor vehicles. Generally, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, farm tractors, watercraft, and skateboards are not considered ”motor vehicles.”

The word negligence means the doing of something that an ordinarily prudent person would not do or the failure to do something that an ordinarily prudent person would do under similar circumstances. Grossly negligent means a very great negligence or the want of even scant care. However, grossly negligent does not mean such reckless disregard of probable consequence as is equivalent to a willful and intentional wrong. Gross negligence falls between ordinary negligence and reckless conduct

Unlike many traffic offenses, vehicular homicides do not have to take place on public property to be prosecuted. Generally, a vehicular homicide can be prosecuted if it occurred anywhere within the state, including on private property.

The motorist cannot use the victim’s actions as a defense. However, the victim’s negligence will be relevant as to whether the motorist was negligent and, if so, whether that negligence was the proximate cause of the victim’s death. For example, the negligence of a victim passenger in allowing a defendant to drive while intoxicated will not absolve the defendant from criminal responsibility for negligent operation of a vehicle.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.