The Definition of Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter is not directly referenced in Arizona statutes. Since the state does not differentiate the crime of manslaughter from vehicular manslaughter in its laws, cases involving this crime will most likely be handled and tried in the same fashion. State statutory law (A.R.S. § 13-1103) details that a charge of manslaughter by vehicle involves the killing of another human by a driver. The death of a person coupled with one of the following elements constitutes the crime of vehicular manslaughter:
- A driver recklessly caused the death of another person, or
- A driver intentionally or knowingly committed murder in the heat of passion or upon a sudden quarrel and resulting from adequate provocation by the victim.
Defining “intentionally or knowingly committing murder in the heat of passion…”
To prove manslaughter by vehicle using the element of intentional or knowingly is often straightforward for prosecutors to prove. The element is constituted when a driver decides to harm another person by vehicle out of anger, rage or other intense emotion.
For example, let's say that a woman and her husband get into an argument before she is about to leave for work. Flustered by the hurtful words that were exchanged, the woman gets in her car and attempts to leave for her work in her vehicle. Moments later, her husband follows her out into the driveway to continue the argument. Before she can even think, she floors the gas pedal and hits her husband in a rage. If the woman's husband dies from his injuries, she can be charged with manslaughter by vehicle.
In the event that a prosecutor attempts to prove that you were driving “recklessly,” he or she will have to present sound evidence that proves so. Typically, the exhibition of recklessness in drivers is difficult to prove.
According to Arizona statutes, a person is driving recklessly when he or she consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. In other words, the alleged perpetrator must have displayed actions that put people at risk, he or she must have been aware of that risk, and the action must be deemed as a risk that a reasonable driver would not have taken based on the likelihood of a resulting injury and/or death.
Motor Vehicle Charges Associated with Vehicular Manslaughter and Recklessness
Although there is no specific charge referenced in state statutes for vehicular manslaughter, there are various factors in a case that make the job of prosecutors to prove the element of recklessness easier. The following are some factors that could potentially lead to a manslaughter conviction.
Driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
A prosecutor could argue that driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol was a reckless act. And with the state of Arizona's stringent DUI legislation and local law enforcement's crackdown on drunk and drugged driving, this argument may hold some weight in a court of law. The state's emphasis of its intolerance of driving under the influence does not help an alleged perpetrator's case if evidence of impairment while behind the wheel is presented.
Any person who partakes in actions that involve racing in any form - drag racing, acceleration competitions etc. - may be considered a reckless driver by a court of law. If a person is killed as a result of the commission of this crime, the person found responsible may be convicted of manslaughter by vehicle.
The crime of criminal speeding in Arizona carries dire consequences. This is due to the risks imposed upon the driver that is speeding and the motorists on the roadways with him or her. Criminal speeding is a factor in a vehicular manslaughter that could be considered recklessness in a case if a police officer alleges that a motorist was doing the following:
- Driving over 35 mph while near a school zone;
- Driving over 20 mph over a posted speed limit;
- Driving over 45 mph when a speed limit has not been posted; or
- Driving over 85 mph at any time (even on highways).
If a police officer confirms that a person committed the crime of criminal speeding and it led to the killing of another person, he or she could possibly be convicted of criminal manslaughter.
Aggressive driving can be deemed a reckless act that leads to the killing of another person. Under Arizona statutes, a person is guilty of aggressive driving if he or she commits two or more of the following violations along with driving at an unsafe speed:
- An unsafe lane change;
- Tailgating (following too closely to another vehicle);
- Passing a vehicle on the right;
- Failing to yield the right of way; or
- Failing to obey a traffic control device (stop sign, red light, etc.).
Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties in Arizona
In Arizona, manslaughter is classified as a class 2 “dangerous” felony. Upon conviction, this offense carries penalties of four to ten years in jail. In the event that there are other aggravating factors such as an extreme or super extreme DUI, a court can increase a sentence.
Experienced Arizona Traffic Attorneys
If have been arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter in Arizona, it is important that you take advantage of your right to legal representation. With the help of an experienced attorney, the possibility of a reduced punishment is maximized. Contact the Law Offices of Shawn B. Hamp today for a consultation.