How Is Vehicular Homicide Defined In New Jersey?
Vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter are essentially interchangeable terms, which means they can be charged either way or as assault by auto; the only difference is, unlike vehicular homicide, manslaughter is the killing of someone without the intent to kill them; it can be reckless, but not intentional. If you get into a car when you’re intoxicated and kill someone in an accident, you’ll most likely be charged with either vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter under section 2C:11-5 of New Jersey’s criminal code.
If there are only serious injuries, you’ll be charged with assault by auto, which is under 2C:12-1c. In order to prove an assault by auto case, the prosecution will have to show that you were operating the vehicle at the time of the offense, that you were above the legal limit or otherwise impaired by drugs or alcohol and that you caused the accident. It’s important to note that, in New Jersey, DWI is a traffic offense, not criminal, unless there are serious injuries or a fatality.
How Do Police Determine Who Has Been Negligent or Reckless in Vehicular Homicide Cases?
“Reckless” means that you‘re driving with a conscious disregard for a substantial risk to human life that you knew existed, whether the victim is a pedestrian, another driver or a passenger in your own vehicle. Driving recklessly can include falling asleep at the wheel or, if you were driving on 24 hours with no sleep, a jury could infer that you were behaving recklessly.
It’s really the same conduct as a DWI case, except that you’re charged with a different level of crime because of the injuries involved. The basic premise is that you have a pretty good idea that something bad could happen and you drive anyway, just like when you have been drinking and you decide to drive, you know there’s a strong possibility that someone could get badly hurt.
One of the defenses I would like to make in a DWI is that you were so intoxicated that you weren’t in your right mind when you made the decision, which is kind of like involuntary intoxication. You can’t sign a contract when you’re intoxicated, so why are you held responsible for this decision? The way the legislature and the courts see it, however, you are simply held responsible and you can’t claim that drinking was an involuntary act.
Can a Passenger Be Charged With Vehicular Homicide or Auto Assault?
The short answer is no; a passenger can’t be charged for not stopping them from driving, although there is a case that is very much on the minds of the legal community in New Jersey, involving a police officer in Linden, New Jersey named Pedro Abad. Abad and some other police officers went out drinking in Staten Island, New York and Abad ended up going the wrong way down a highway and got into an accident in which he and one other officer were badly injured and another officer was killed, so he was charged in New York with vehicular homicide, among other things.
Now, Mr. Abad’s passengers were police officers and they knew he was drinking and driving, but they weren’t charged, any more than an ordinary person would be charged, because it’s not a crime. In fact, one of the other officers has filed a notice of claim, meaning he intends to sue the Linden Township Police Department, based on the fact that Mr. Abad had prior DWI charges and he was not suspended by the department, as some people have said he should have been.
What that is probably about is as a workaround of what’s called the Dram Shop Statute; in New Jersey, if you are driving while intoxicated, you can’t sue someone else for your injuries. So, the other officer is probably anticipating they will claim that he was intoxicated and he is trying to raise responsibility at the Township for letting this guy be on the police force in the first place.
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