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Vehicular Manslaughter Defense Attorney explains New York vehicular injury charges

Posted By Galluzzo & Arnone || 6-Feb-2014

Blog - Vehicular Manslaughter:

Mayor De Blasio's 'Vision Zero' campaign aims for zero traffic related deaths within ten years. The campaign focuses particularly on pedestrian fatalities resulting from traffic accidents.

http://pix11.com/2014/01/15/mayor-de-blasio-launches-vision-zero-program-aimed-at-preventing-pedestrian-fatalities/#axzz2sI0z3H6l

All road users need to keep in mind while contemplating the changes being implemented as part of the Mayor's initiative that not only could death and serious injury occur as a result of one's driving, but those who cause accidents (both fatal and non-fatal) could also face a multitude of very serious criminal charges.

The most serious charges relating to vehicular accidents are contained in the New York Penal Law ('NYPL'). These include assault, vehicular assault, criminally negligent homicide, aggravated criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, and aggravated vehicular homicide.

Vehicular Manslaughter Defense Attorneys explains New York vehicular injury charges

NYPL §120.10(3) sets out the assault provision relating to use of a vehicle: a person is guilty of assault in the first degree when under circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to another person. Driving with a "depraved indifference to human life" could include deliberately driving at high speed down the wrong lane or direction of traffic, for example.

NYPL §120.03 and 120.04 set out the offenses of vehicular assault, in the second and first degree (respectively). Each offense has several sub-sections. Vehicular assault in the second degree can be made out if an individual causes serious injury to another person: while driving a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; operates a motor vehicle weighing more than 18,000 pounds containing flammable gas, radioactive materials or explosive (which then cause the injury) while under the influence of alcohol; operates a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle ('ATV') on a street, highway, public trail, or private property of another while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Vehicular assault in the second degree is a class E felony, and anyone charged under this section faces four years imprisonment. Vehicular assault in the first degree can be made out if an individual causes serious injury to another person while committing vehicular assault in the second degree and has either: a blood alcohol level of more than 0.18; with the knowledge that their license is suspended or revoked based on either a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or a failure to submit to testing for such; has a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol within the previous ten years; causes serious injury to more than one person, has a previous conviction under §125 involving the operation of a motor vehicle; or commits such a crime with a child under the age of fifteen years as a passenger who is injured as a result. Vehicular assault in the first degree is a class D felony, and anyone charged under this section faces seven years imprisonment.

NYPL §125.10 sets out the offense of criminally negligent homicide: a person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, they cause the death of another person. NYPL §15.05(4) defines criminal negligence as: a person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when they fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature a degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. Criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, and anyone charged under this section faces four years imprisonment.

NYPL §125.11 sets out the offense of aggravated criminally negligent homicide: a person is guilty of aggravated criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, they cause the death of a police officer or peace officer where such officer was in the course of performing their official duties and the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that such victim was a police officer or peace officer. Aggravated criminally negligent homicide is a class C felony, and anyone charged under this section faces fifteen years imprisonment.

NYPL §125.12 and 125.13 set out vehicular manslaughter in the second and first degree (respectively). Vehicular manslaughter is made out when an individual causes the death of another in the same circumstances as set out above relating to vehicular assault in the second degree. Vehicular manslaughter in the second degree is a class D felony, and anyone charged under this section faces seven years imprisonment. Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree is made out when an individual causes the death of another in the same circumstances as set out above relating to vehicular assault in the first degree. Vehicular manslaughter in the first degree is a class C felony, and anyone charged under this section faces fifteen years imprisonment.

NYPL § 125.14 sets out the offense of aggravated vehicular homicide is a more complicated offense, which involves a driver being under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, while committing vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, and one of the circumstances as set out above relating to vehicular assault in the first degree, (or the additional circumstance of causing the death of one person and serious physical injury to at least one other person). Aggravated vehicular assault is a class B felony, and anyone charged under this section faces twenty-five years imprisonment.

Depending on the severity of the incident, individuals could even more serious charges, such as manslaughter in the second degree, as set out in NYPL §125.15(1): a person is guilt of manslaughter in the second degree when they recklessly cause the death of another person. 'Recklessness' is defined in §15.05 (3) as: when a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but is unaware thereof solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly. Manslaughter in the second degree is a class C felony, and anyone charged under this section faces fifteen years imprisonment.

The lesser charges that an individual could face after having been involved in a traffic accident including leaving the scene of an accident, and reckless driving. These are both contained within the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law ('VTL').

VTL § 600 sets out the offense of leaving the scene of an accident. This offense is split into accidents resulting in property damage, and accidents resulting in personal injury. With regards to property damage (whether to real or personal property) as a result of the operation of a motor vehicle, as set out in sub-section (1): failing to stop, exhibit your license and insurance identification card for your vehicle, and give your name, address, insurance provider and identification information including but not limited to number and expiry dates, as well as license number, person sustaining the damage (or in their absence, as soon as physically possible to the nearest police station or judicial officer) is a traffic infraction. Anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $250 and/or imprisonment for fifteen days. With regards to personal injury, as a result of the operation of a motor vehicle, is required under sub-section (2) to provide the same information as listed above to the injured party if practical, and also to a police officer. If there is no police officer on the scene, the driver must report to accident as soon as physically possible to the nearest police station of judicial officer. Depending on the particular violation of this sub-section, individuals charged face different penalties. If the violation is the result of a failure to show one's license or insurance identification, or exchange any of the required information, this is a class B misdemeanour, and anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $250-500. Any subsequent violation of the same nature is a class A misdemeanour, and anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $500-1000 in addition to possible imprisonment. Any such violation of a person with a previous conviction for the same is a class E felony, and anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $1000-2500 in addition to possible imprisonment. Any violation other than a mere failure to produce one's license or insurance identification card in which personal injury of a serious nature results is a class E felony, and anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $1000-5000 in addition to possible imprisonment. The same scenario as the latter, resulting in death (instead of serious personal injury) is a class D felony, and anyone charged under this section faces a fine of $2500-5000 in addition to possible imprisonment.

VTL §1212 sets out the offense of reckless driving: driving or using any motor vehicle, motorcycle or any other vehicle in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of a public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of a public highway. Violation of this section is a misdemeanour, and can result in a fine and/or imprisonment.

It is worth noting that defendants often face all possible charges relating to a fatal traffic accident. In the 1999 case of People v Hart, the defendant (whose son was killed in a collision with another vehicle) was found guilty of manslaughter in the second degree, vehicular manslaughter in the first degree, reckless driving, careless reckless and negligent operation of an ATV, operating an unregistered ATV, operating an ATV on a highway, and operating an ATV without a helmet.[1] The defendant had originally been charged with 14 counts of driving related offenses. The defendant was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment (and as such, assuming the defendant served the entirety of his sentence, he should be being released from prison sometime this year).

If you or a loved one are facing serious criminal charges arising out of a traffic accident in which death or serious injury resulted, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to assist with their case. We suggest you contact the aggressive former prosecutors at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP to set up an appointment.


[1] People v Hart 266 A.D.2d 698 (Appellate Division, 3d Dept, 1999).