There is no more unsettling or life-changing criminal traffic charge in Washington state than that of Vehicular Homicide. The consequences of one bad judgment or poor decision are severe, unintended and life-altering. One bad exercise of judgment doesn’t make someone a bad person. People charged or being investigated for vehicular homicide owe it to themselves and their families to explore every possible defense.
Elements of Vehicular Homicide
There are actually three designations of Vehicular Homicide under Washington law. In each case there are the requisite elements that there is a death within three years as a proximate result of an injury, proximately caused by the driving of a vehicle if the driver was operating the vehicle:
- While under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI)
- With disregard for the safety of others
In all of these cases there exists the requirement of proximate cause both in terms of the injury that leads to death and the driving that leads to an injury. If there exist other, intervening causes, that would constitute a defense to vehicular homicide. Proximate, in this instance, means the most immediate or closest cause of the result.
Vehicular Homicide – DUI
When charged under this prong of the statute, in addition to the other elements mentioned above, it must be proven per RCW 46.61.502 that the person had been driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the incident. This means that every element required for a DUI conviction is required to be proven in DUI vehicular homicide case as well.
Regardless of the theory under which vehicular homicide is charged, it is considered a Class A felony punishable by up to life imprisonment and a $50,000 fine. Under the DUI category, it is classified as a level XI (11) offense. This means that a person with no criminal history would be facing a standard prison sentence of 78-102 months. However, two years would be added to any sentence for every past conviction that would be considered a prior under the DUI statute.
Vehicular Homicide – Reckless Driving
Reckless driving, in Washington state, is defined as driving a motor vehicle with “willful and wanton” disregard for the safety of persons or property. If the other elements are present, no alcohol or drugs were involved and the allegation is that reckless driving was the cause of the incident, vehicular homicide would be charged under this subsection. It is still a Class A felony and it is still ranked as having the same seriousness level as a DUI related case. The only real difference, in addition to the lack of having to prove DUI, is that prior DUI related convictions will not automatically add time to the presumptive prison sentence.
Disregard for the safety of others
The final manner in which this crime can be proven is if the driver was driving with “disregard” for the safety of others. This differs from the “reckless” subsection in that it need not be proven that the driver acted willfully or wantonly. It also occupies a significantly lower spot on the seriousness level ranking chart. At a level VII (7), the presumptive range for a person with no felony history would be 15-20 months, a significant departure from the level XI (11) offenses. Prior DUI related offenses do not add to the sentence of this charge either though, it too is a Class A felony.
Need for immediate action
Often this charge is not filed by the government in the immediate days following the incident. As the police and prosecutors investigate and await the collection of all relevant evidence and toxicology reports, it can take several months in some jurisdictions before a vehicular homicide charge is ultimately brought to court. Use this time wisely. Do not wait for the State to conduct its investigation before beginning your own. Identifying the attorney who will represent you should this charge be filed as well as an investigator to conduct your investigation is of paramount importance. There is much that needs to be done to prevent, defend and/or mitigate the fallout from an incident of this magnitude.
As the vehicular homicide statutes are occasionally amended and its elements and penalties altered, be sure to review the applicable statutes and consult with an attorney should you or someone you know be investigated for this crime. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Milios Defense for guidance, consultation, and representation.