Not all car accidents are created equal. Sometimes, they result in tragic deaths and possible lawsuits. And to make matters worse, criminal charges may follow.

It’s important to know the basic information about criminal charges that may come after a fatal car accident. But, it is not a substitute for experienced legal counsel. It is in your best interest to contact a criminal defense lawyer with specific questions about your case.

Arrested After a Fatal Car Crash?

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reported 1,060 fatal car accidents in 2020. Many of these deadly wrecks led to criminal charges. The most common criminal charge is homicide by vehicle, sometimes called vehicular homicide.

Homicide by Vehicle

You can be charged with vehicular homicide if you broke a traffic law and caused the death of another person through the reckless or grossly negligent operation of a motor vehicle. Under Pennsylvania law, vehicular homicide is a third-degree felony.

Examples of Reckless or Grossly Negligent Driving

  • Speeding
  • Driving without lights to avoid detection
  • Running a red light or stop sign
  • Failing to yield right of way

Homicide by Vehicle While DUI

A DUI that results in the death of another person is a second-degree felony. Under state law, vehicular homicide with a DUI carries a minimum of three years in custody, up to ten years per victim.

In addition to imprisonment, penalties include a $25,000 fine per victim and license suspension of three years or longer.

You could face multiple charges in a homicide by vehicle case, such as the individual mentioned here.

Lesser Charges in Car Accidents

Not all charges related to fatal car accidents are felonies. You could face lesser crimes, such as reckless driving, speeding, operating a wireless device while driving, and more. It is also illegal in Pennsylvania to flee the scene of an accident (hit and run) regardless of whether someone is severely or fatally injured.

Legal Standard in Homicide by Vehicle Cases

The prosecution must have sufficient evidence to bring charges against you. Most importantly, you have the right to an aggressive defense against these charges.

You are also presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is why the burden of proof is on prosecutors to show that you should be convicted of your charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Burden of Proof for Vehicular Homicide

Prosecutors must prove certain elements to seek a conviction. These elements are slightly different, depending on whether the charge is vehicular homicide or vehicular homicide while DUI.

You acted recklessly, with gross negligence, or were driving under the influence

Your actions caused a death

Homicide by Vehicle: Contributing Factors

The law distinguishes vehicular homicide caused by breaking a traffic law versus a death caused by a drunk driver.

Other contributing factors influence the charges against you:

  • Prior criminal history, if any
  • Positive proof of intoxication or drug use
  • Where the accident occurred (for example, additional charges apply if in a work zone or involved an emergency vehicle)
  • Your age
  • Driving record
  • Valid license or if you were driving on a suspended or revoked license
  • Contributing or extenuating circumstances (for example, you were being carjacked or similar duress)

Things That Help Your Case

You can take proactive steps to help improve the outlook for your case.

Don’t Resist Arrest

You could be arrested at the scene, days or months later. Remain calm and do not resist arrest.

Don’t Admit Fault Too Soon

When serious car accidents happen, people are quick to assign blame or even apologize without knowing the facts. Perhaps an auto defect or another factor was the cause of the accident. Admitting responsibility too soon can have a significant negative impact on your case.

Ask for an Attorney

Politely decline to answer questions by police officers until you have an attorney present. Using your right to remain silent is almost always in your best interest.

Seek Advice About Your Plea

You will have an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against you. Talk to a criminal defense attorney about your options. It is in your best interest to plead not guilty in most situations.

Express Remorse

Sometimes good people do stupid things that have tragic results. You have the right to avoid self-incrimination, but the court may react more favorably at a sincere expression of remorse or regret from you. Talk about what to say and how to say it with an experienced attorney who can provide you with advice and assist with preparing a statement or public comment.

Facing Homicide by Vehicle Charges?

If you’re facing homicide by vehicle charges for a fatal car accident in or around Philadelphia, call Fienman Defense for a free consultation. We will assess the situation, highlight faults, pursue a dismissal, acquittal, or reduced penalties, and do everything possible to secure a favorable outcome.

Call 215-839-9529 or reach out online for a free, confidential consultation.

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