A homicide by vehicle while DWI in NJ is a unique offense, separate from other forms of homicide. Considered a second degree crime, death by auto or vessel is a form of reckless homicide. It is specifically defined as causing death during the operation of a vehicle that is not man powered while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol or over the legal .08 BAC limit. Based on this definition, operating a bicycle would not apply, whereas a motorcycle would.
In order to be charged with death by auto or vessel, it must first be proven that you are driving recklessly. There are two distinct ways to be considered a reckless driver. One way is to be sleep deprived. The other is to be impaired. Impaired driving can be caused by hallucinogenic drugs, liquor, habit-producing drugs or narcotics. The presence of these intoxicants can be detected by a blood test or urine test. Whereas being intoxicated can be a defense to murder in the state of New Jersey, it is not a defense to death by auto or vessel.
Because death by auto is a second degree crime, the sentencing is 5 to 10 years. However, the minimum term for this crime is the greater of three years or one-third to one-half that. A drunk driver that kills someone could easily spend five years in prison during which they would not be eligible for parole.
The penalties for death by auto are increased if the accident has any relationship with schools. This includes taking place in a school zone, at a school crossing, or at any property used by schools. It does not matter if schools were closed, or if there were no children at the crossing. It is not a defense to be unaware that the location was a school zone. Death by auto when related to schools is a first degree offense. The sentence for this crime is 10-20 years.
In addition to incarceration, those convicted of death by auto while DWI in the state of New Jersey will face other sanctions. Following completion of any jail time, those convicted of this crime will not be able to operate a vehicle for at least five years. There is also the possibility that the license suspension can be for life. Drivers convicted of this DWI offense must surrender their vehicles, unless it can be shown that a significant hardship to the family exists. This hardship must be more significant than the risk imposed by allowing the driver to continue driving the vehicle.
A death by auto or vessel offense is devastating for everyone involved. There are clear sentencing guidelines, but defenses exist to the allegation of drunk driving. A thorough examination of the blood or urine testing must be done to determine if the laboratory failed to do its job properly. Also, the police may have jumped to certain incorrect conclusions about the driver’s state of sobriety.
In addition to criminal charges, those convicted should also be concerned about wrongful death suits from the victim’s family.