Accidents happen, but sometimes they lead to tragedy, death. It is more than anything anybody bargained for when they are involved in a vehicle mishap. Here is what you need to know about the charges associated with death by vehicle accident:
- Vehicular manslaughter or homicide, how a person gets charged for one or the other in Maryland;
- Manslaughter vs. homicide, what is the difference in the charges
- The six different charges in Maryland and their penalties if convicted
How Someone is Charged with Either Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter in Maryland
We are no strangers to vehicle accidents; they happen every day, and many of us have been in one. Most of the time, they involve exchanging insurance information and getting the vehicle repaired, but there are occasions where an accident leads to life loss.
Traffic-related deaths actually rose during the days of lockdowns and restrictions, while the number of accidents decreased. There is a reason behind the sharp increase during the pandemic, lousy driving behavior with fewer cars on the road.
Now that the pandemic is fading into the rearview mirror, more drivers will hit the road for vacations, work, and leisure. The rise in travel volume post-pandemic is sure to make the streets a bit more dangerous, especially with people getting back behind the wheel for the first time in months. Combine that with the increased lousy driving behavior, and the streets are ripe for a disaster.
Despite what the name infers, accidents do have a fault, and those found at fault face penalties for causing the crash. Those citations are usually for reckless driving, speeding, failure to obey posted signs, tailgating, and DUI. Minor nuisances that carry fines and points on your Maryland driver’s license.
What causes more than a nuisance is an accident where a person is killed. When this happens, a person may find themselves facing vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges. Why would you be charged with manslaughter over homicide and vice versa?
A person charged with vehicle manslaughter unintentionally killed a person. Vehicular homicide charges are pressed when a deliberate action led to death, such as drinking and driving.
The Difference Between Manslaughter and Homicide Charges Related to Vehicle Accidents
Being charged with either offense is severe and takes a criminal defense attorney’s tireless action protecting your rights to ensure a favorable outcome.
Often lumped together, homicide and manslaughter have distinct reasons for the charge and penalties for convictions. Maryland quantifies four charges related to deaths caused by a vehicle accident, two manslaughter and homicide charges each:
- Vehicular manslaughter – gross negligence
- Vehicular manslaughter – criminal negligence
- Vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol
- Vehicular homicide while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or controlled dangerous substance
The key difference between manslaughter and homicide by vehicle in Maryland is whether the action was voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary = Unintentional. Voluntary = Deliberate.
For a vehicular manslaughter charge, prosecutors must show the person was negligent of their driving actions, either grossly or criminally.
Gross negligence is the more serious of the two manslaughter charges, as it implies the person knew the actions could cause death but consciously disregarded the risk. Criminal negligence means the person should have been aware that their behavior was a risk to life but was not. In both cases, the person did not intend to kill.
Vehicular homicide charges are pressed when there are drugs or alcohol involved in the cause of the wreck. Impaired driving itself is illegal. (We have DUI and DWI laws on the books that say so.) If someone gets behind the wheel impaired, they already know what they are doing is wrong, and an accident is probable. In other words, they deliberately disregarded the law.
Because of that knowledge, if a death is involved, then the action is not considered “involuntary” but “voluntary” and moves charges into the realm of murder.
To be charged with vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol, a driver must have a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher when the crash occurred. An impaired driving homicide charge happens when drugs, alcohol, or a controlled dangerous substance affected the driver’s ability to drive.
Regardless of charges, punishment for the loss of life in Maryland is harsh.
The Penalties for the Charges in Maryland
Whether it involves a vehicle or not, the death of a person through manslaughter or homicide usually carries a prison sentence. In Maryland, these are the sentences imposed for convictions of vehicular manslaughter or homicide:
|Charge||Felony or Misdemeanor||Prison Time||Fine||Fine & Prison|
|Vehicular manslaughter – gross negligence||Felony||Up to 10 years||Up to $5,000||Yes|
|Vehicular manslaughter – criminal negligence||Misdemeanor||Up to 3 years||Up to $5,000||Yes|
|Vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol||Felony||Up to 5 years||Up to $5,000||Yes|
|Vehicular homicide while impaired by alcohol, drugs, or CDS||Felony||Up to 3 years||Up to $5,000||Yes|
If someone has a prior conviction of vehicular homicide or manslaughter and faces new charges of manslaughter or homicide by vehicle, then punishment roughly doubles in prison time and fines.
When a life is lost because of someone else’s actions, the consequences are significant. The rules of the road are there to help guide us safely along our journeys, but breaking those rules and costing someone their life will bring a significant loss to your doorstep if convicted; the loss of freedom, jobs, family, and more.
Getting behind the wheel takes responsibility because not only is your life at stake but so is everyone else’s every time we drive. With more drivers ready to hit the road now that the pandemic is lifting, remember to buckle up, drive sober, and pay attention.
Sometimes accidents are unavoidable, and all our preparation, caution, and safety are for naught. If someone dies in an accident you’re involved in, make sure to call an attorney to protect yourself.
Even though you did everything you thought was right while driving, the police may not see it that way and press vehicle manslaughter or homicide charges. The criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of James E. Crawford, Jr. & Associates, LLC are ready to talk to you about your case with a free initial consultation. Contact us today and see how we can keep your life intact.