Are There Different Degrees Of Vehicular Homicide Charges In Sentencing?
Vehicular homicide cases will generally be sentenced as either a second- or a first-degree crime, which means you’ll be looking at five to 10 years and quite possibly more. They are very much like a felony DUI, even though we don’t use the term “felony” in New Jersey. People charged with vehicular homicide face an indictable crime for which they can go to state prison for a very long time because they choose to drive while intoxicated.
In municipal courts, a garden-variety DWI without the injuries or death is considered a quasi-criminal matter, and people go to jail for a maximum of 180 days, or six months, but these are cases for which people can go to jail for a decade or longer in some cases, if there are aggravating factors, such as whether it’s a first offense of DUI or a fifth, and the level of intoxication, whether you were driving due to an emergency or if you were using drugs.
Of course, they may be mitigating factors, such as if you were mixing a prescription medication with a small amount of alcohol and it impaired your ability to drive but you weren’t consciously aware of that, and there is the Ambien defense, in which some people take Ambien with a drink and go to bed and the next thing they know, they are sleep driving and have no idea what they were doing.
What Are New Jersey’s Procedures For BAC Testing After An Accident?
If there is a suspicion that alcohol or drugs are in play for any drivers, the police will conduct an evaluation of the driver under the NHTSA protocol, which means they will talk to them to determine if they had been drinking or using drugs, and they will conduct field sobriety tests. If drugs are involved, they may bring in a drug recognition expert to determine if a drug involvement may be present.
If there are serious injuries, they will take the driver in to perform the chemical breath test known as the Alco-test, but they may also obtain a warrant to take blood from that person. Under a case called McNeely vs Minnesota from the United States Supreme Court a couple years ago, the police are required to get a warrant before they take your blood; while you cannot refuse to take a chemical breath test, you can refuse to provide your blood, although they will get a warrant and take the blood most of the time in a case like this because it is the most unchallengeable form of determining the blood alcohol content. Nonetheless, we still find ways to challenge that.
BAC level can play a role in determining the severity of the offense. If a death or serious injury has occurred and alcohol is in play, the person will be charged with a felony, whether you had a low blood alcohol or it’s over the legal limit. It will come in for sentencing purposes because there is a big difference between three to five years and five to 10 years, and the level of intoxication can be an aggravating factor.
What Are Some Defense Strategies For Vehicular Homicide Cases Involving Alcohol?
Vehicular homicide cases tend to be expert-intensive cases, and the first thing we’ll evaluate is the determination at the scene that they had probable cause to bring the defendant in for a breath test or to take blood. That’s usually done in part using the DRE or using the standardized field sobriety tests, and we will often retain a retired state trooper who can testify as to how the tests were performed and whether they fulfilled the standards required. We will also retain a medical doctor, especially a deep specialist who can determine whether this person’s performance on the tests was as a result of physical injuries and not because they were intoxicated.
Finally, we will probably retain a forensic scientist to help us attack the blood or breath test. Sometimes, if we’re dealing with computer data from the breath tests, we’ll retain an individual whose expertise is in evaluating the data downloads from the Alco-test machine and comparing them to all other machines to find discrepancies in the data, which can result in suppressing the blood test or the breath test.
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