What Is Vehicular Homicide in Georgia?
Under Georgia motor vehicle laws, the offense of homicide by vehicle — commonly called vehicular homicide — occurs when the driver of a motor vehicle unintentionally causes an accident that results in the death of another person. The consequences of a conviction of vehicular homicide are very severe. Representation by an experienced defense attorney who understands the statutes and case law, and is familiar with local practices and procedures, is essential.
Felony and Misdemeanor Vehicular Homicide
Georgia vehicular homicide can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. The law defines felony or 1st degree vehicular homicide as an unintentional death from an accident caused by the following driving conduct:
- Driving under the influence (DUI), OGCA § 40-6-391
- Hit and run / leaving the scene of an accident, OGCA § 40-6-270
- Reckless driving, OGCA § 40-6-390
- Attempting to elude a police officer, OGCA § 40-6-395
- Passing a stopped school bus discharging passengers, OGCA § 40-6-163
DUI is the most common violation that leads to a vehicular homicide charge. Both DUI per se and DUI less safe can lead to a vehicular homicide charge.
In addition, a habitual violator whose license is in revocation commits 1st degree vehicular homicide if the person causes an unintentional death by operation of a motor vehicle.
Misdemeanor or 2nd degree homicide by vehicle occurs when a death results from an accident caused by any misdemeanor traffic violation other than those specified for a felony charge. Common violations that lead to vehicular homicide charges include:
- Failing to stop at a red light or stop sign
- Failure to yield right of way or maintain lane
- Driving too fast for conditions
- Texting while driving
A special statutory section, OGCA § 40-6-393.1, addresses feticide by vehicle, which is causing the death of an unborn baby due to injury or death of the mother. Feticide due to reckless driving or DUI is a 1st degree vehicular homicide. Feticide due to any other misdemeanor motor vehicle violations constitutes 2nd degree vehicular homicide.
Penalties for Vehicular Homicide
Penalties for 1st and 2nd degree vehicular homicide include jail or prison time. For a felony 1st degree conviction, the minimum prison sentence is three years, and the maximum sentence is 15 years. For a misdemeanor 2nd degree conviction, the potential penalties include jail time of up to 12 months and a fine of up to $1,000, in the discretion of the judge. In addition to jail or prison time and a fine, a conviction for either 1st or 2nd degree vehicular homicide results in a driver’s license suspension of three years (1st degree) or 12 months (2nd degree).
If multiple deaths occur in one accident, each death results in a separate charge. The charges do not merge. A Georgia judge can order consecutive sentences for multiple charges arising out of one accident.
A felony or misdemeanor vehicular homicide conviction on your record can impact your life far beyond the criminal and administrative penalties. The consequences can include difficulty getting a job, finding housing, and even getting financial credit. For anyone who faces a vehicular homicide charge, it’s essential to get assistance from a skillful criminal defense attorney.
Defending Against a Vehicular Homicide Charge
As with any criminal charge, the prosecution must prove a vehicular homicide case beyond a reasonable doubt. A knowledgeable defense lawyer has strategies for defending against a vehicular homicide charge based on the evidence and the required elements of the offense. Often, the evidence can be challenged regarding the causal connection between the victim’s death and the defendant’s driving conduct.
In addition, the underlying traffic offense must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, if a DUI charge is the basis for the vehicular homicide charge, an attorney can undermine the DUI charge by challenging the evidence, thereby negating the basis for the vehicular homicide charge.
Specific defenses always depend on the facts and circumstances of the individual case. Having an experienced defense attorney who understands DUI and other traffic offenses, as well as vehicular homicide charges, gives you the best chance at an aggressive defense.
Plea negotiations may also be an important part of successfully defending against a vehicular homicide charge. Your attorney should know the local practices and procedures and be familiar with the prosecution’s approach to plea bargains in vehicular homicide cases. In some cases, getting the charge reduced can significantly impact the penalties and consequences of the offense.
Talk with an Experienced Georgia Vehicular Homicide Defense Lawyer
Our attorneys at Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia have the right combination of experience, skill, and knowledge to defend against a vehicular homicide charge and the related traffic offense, including DUI. Based in Cartersville, we serve clients throughout Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County and Paulding County. If you need representation on a Georgia vehicular homicide charge, please contact us, so we can begin working on your case right away.
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