Vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or homicide by a vehicle – as it’s known in Pennsylvania – is a serious felony with dire consequences. Unfortunately, homicide by vehicle happens more often than you may think, and you should understand what to expect when sentences and punishments are handed down.

Homicide by Vehicle

Pennsylvania penalizes two types of vehicular homicide. Both are felonies and could result in time in custody.

Homicide by Vehicle

Homicide by vehicle involves the reckless or grossly negligent operation of a motor vehicle that unintentionally causes the death of another person. An example is driving the wrong way on a one-way street and causing a fatal head-on collision.

Homicide by Vehicle While DUI

Homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence occurs when a drunk driver causes the death of another.

Penalties for Homicide by Vehicle

Homicide by Vehicle

  • Third-degree felony
  • Punishable by up to seven years in prison
  • $15,000 fine
  • Suspended driver’s license for three years

Homicide by Vehicle While DUI

  • Second-degree felony
  • Minimum prison sentence of three years; up to 10 years for each homicide charge
  • $25,000 fine for each victim
  • Suspended driver’s license for three years or longer

What Affects Homicide by Vehicle Penalties?

Many factors impact sentencing, many of which could improve or hurt your situation.

Your Prior History

Having a clean record with no prior arrests or convictions could reduce your penalty. On the other hand, prior DUIs or reckless driving convictions will not paint you in a positive light.

Your Age

Juveniles could receive a lighter sentence due to their age.

No Intoxication or Impairment

If you successfully pass a blood or chemical drug test, you face lesser consequences.

Positive Pre-Sentencing Letters or Motions

Family members and friends can send pre-sentencing letters to the court on behalf of the defendant. These letters should include positive character statements about the defendant.

Defendants can also write to the court requesting leniency. A genuine statement of remorse and a willingness to take responsibility could improve your standing with the court.

Sentencing Alternatives

Depending on the nature and circumstances involved, you could request alternatives to imprisonment, including:

Credit for Inpatient Treatment

Pennsylvania law allows a sentencing judge to give credit to individuals who received inpatient treatment for substance abuse and other mental health issues.

House Arrest

House arrest means that you have restricted motion via an electronic monitoring system.

Weekend Jail

It might be possible to negotiate for weekend jail so that you may work during the week. This option might be available for defendants who are the primary breadwinners and do not pose a flight risk.


In some instances, the court could assign you probation. You are responsible for reporting to your appointed officer and obeying the conditions of your probation.

Ignition Interlock Device

You could avoid an extended license suspension by agreeing to install an ignition interlock device. You will only be able to start your engine if you pass the device’s alcohol test.

Defensive Driving Courses

For vehicular homicide convictions caused by reckless driving, the court could substitute or reduce jail time with certain defensive driving courses.

Alcohol or Drug Rehabilitation

You might be able to avoid prison by agreeing to alcohol or drug rehabilitation.

Victim Restitution

Victim restitution means that you financially compensate surviving family members for their economic and emotional loss.

An Attorney Can Help with Sentencing

An experienced attorney understands Pennsylvania’s complex criminal code and looks for weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. If there are no grounds to dismiss your charges or prove your innocence at trial, a lawyer can help you mitigate the negative impact and secure a favorable sentence.

An experienced attorney can negotiate with the prosecution to arrange a plea to a lesser charge, advocate for house arrest or probation instead of incarceration, and use pre-sentencing documents to present your case to the judge in support of a request for leniency.

Contact Fienman Defense

Michael Fienman is an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia with a long history of success in vehicular homicide cases. For a free, confidential consultation with attorney Fienman, call 215-839-9529 or fill out our contact form.

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