A vehicular homicide charge can be brought in Washington State when the death of any person is proximately caused by a driver who operated a vehicle recklessly, without regard for the safety of others or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Vehicular homicide is a Class A felony, and so punishments for individuals convicted of this crime can be severe. In 2016, Jason's Law, a bill named in honor of a Kennewick man killed during a hit-and-run, increased the sentencing range for vehicular homicide caused by driving in a reckless manner from 21-27 months to 78-102 months, or 6.5 to 8.5 years. When a driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, an additional two years can be added to the sentence for each prior DUI offense on the driver's record. License revocation and monetary fines are also imposed with vehicular homicide convictions. Any death that results from a car accident is a tragedy, but the person behind the wheel is not necessarily worthy of blame.
There are defenses available:
- Proximate Cause -- The death must be a direct result of a driver's actions and must ensue within three years of the incident. That means the victim's medical condition is subject to scrutiny to determine the fatality's connection to the injuries sustained in the crash.
- Contributory Factors -- The driver can produce evidence that he acted responsibly but that circumstances such as road conditions, vehicle defects or malfunctions or the victim's own conduct contributed to the crash.
- Police Misconduct -- A charge may also be thrown out over police misconduct during the initial arrest or subsequent investigation. In February 2018, a judge dismissed a vehicular homicide charge after reviewing evidence that Washington State Patrol troopers used false claims in order to obtain search warrants. Statements in police affidavits did not match footage from the arresting officers' body cameras.
Even in cases where a driver was allegedly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there are potential defenses available. The driver can challenge whether police had sufficient grounds to ask the driver to take a breath or blood test and whether the test was administered properly and timely so as to produce accurate results. Possible malfunctioning of the Breathalyzer itself can also be raised by the defense. Every automobile-related death is tragic, but not all rise to the level of vehicular homicide. A carefully investigated and tailored criminal defense is required in each case.
Our office represents clients in the Seattle area and throughout Washington. To learn more about how we can help, call us at (206) 429-4777 or contact us online.