In New Jersey, the charge of vehicular homicide involves the death of someone that was caused by another person’s reckless operation of a motor vehicle or vessel. Reckless conduct in New Jersey is defined as acting with a conscious disregard of a known and justifiable risk to the value of human life, such as driving under the influence.
How someone is charged with the crime of assault by auto in New Jersey depends upon the conduct of the defendant and the severity of the injuries produced. If the driver’s reckless conduct led to minor injuries like cuts or bruises, he may be charged with a disorderly person’s offense, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine up to $1,000. If the driver was intoxicated and caused only minor injuries, the offender is subject to a DWI/DUI assault by auto charge, which is a fourth degree crime and carries penalties of up to 18 months in state prison and a fine up to $10,000. If the driver caused bodily injury in a school zone, the charge is upgraded to a third degree crime, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail and a fine up to $150,000.
A driver who was reckless and caused serious bodily injury can be charged with a fourth degree crime, which has a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail and a fine of $10,000. If the driver was intoxicated and caused serious bodily injury, the offender is subject to a DWI/DUI assault by auto charge, which is a third degree crime and carries penalties of up to 5 years in state prison and a fine up to $150,000. If the driver caused serious bodily injury in a school zone, the charges is upgraded to a second degree crime, which carries a presumption of imprisonment and a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine up to $200,000.
A driver who drives recklessly and causes the death of another can be charged with a second degree crime. A second degree crime is punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and there is a presumption that the driver will be incarcerated. If the driver operated the car recklessly under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life, the charge can be upgraded to aggravated manslaughter, a first degree crime, which carries a penalty of 10 to 30 years in state prison. A driver convicted of second degree vehicular homicide or first degree aggravated manslaughter will also be subject to the No Early Release Act, which requires the driver to serve 85% of the sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Defenses to a crime often include mistaken identification or failure to prove an element of the crime. For instance, in the case of vehicular homicide or assault by auto, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver of the car that caused the deadly or serious accident was the defendant, an issue if there were was more than one person in the defendant’s vehicle and the driver was not identified. Also, if drinking is suspected, the State must prove that the accused consumed alcohol or drugs before the accident rather than after, which may have accounted for their high blood alcohol content.
A criminal defense attorney may also challenge the method by which a crime scene was preserved by the authorities and the chain of evidence. A vital piece of evidence may have been contaminated by poor police procedures, mislabeled, or unaccounted for, thus exposing it to contamination. DNA tests may eliminate or point to another person who might have committed the offense, so long as the test was conducted reliably and accurately.
Other defenses may include a challenge to a search warrant that uncovered evidence linking the accused to the crime. If the warrant contained misleading or false information for the judge or magistrate to consider in issuing the warrant, or if the warrant did not sufficiently describe the areas to be searched, or the evidence seized was outside the scope of the warrant and not in plain view, then a successful challenge might cause evidence to be suppressed and the charges reduced or dismissed.
If you or loved one has been charged with vehicular assault, it is important to contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.