Vehicular Assault and Vehicular Homicide in New York
What is Vehicular Crime?
New York law defines vehicular crime where an operator of a motorized vehicle severely injures or kills another person while the operator’s driving ability is impaired. The most common way this occurs is when an operator is driving while intoxicated and becomes involved in an accident where another person has been badly injured or killed.
However, certain drugs, with or without alcohol, can impair an operator’s driving ability and can cause a vehicular injury crime.
Here are some possible ways that an individual may face possible charges of vehicular crime.
- Someone drives with blood alcohol at .10 is involved in an accident with another vehicle. The accident shatters several bones in the other driver.
- A driver while taking Methamphetamines strikes a pedestrian and causes life-threatening injuries to the pedestrian.
- A driver who has consumed alcohol, with a blood alcohol content within legal limits, and ingested Percocet, drives into the side of a building and causes significant injuries to a passenger in the driver’s vehicle.
- Someone is operating a snowmobile while legally intoxicated hits a pedestrian and causes the pedestrian’s death.
- A commercial truck operator drives a truck carrying hazardous chemicals crashes into a barrier wall due to his driving ability being impaired. This results in spraying of hazardous chemicals which causes a bystander to sustain severe chemical burns.
- An intoxicated houseboat operator strikes a swimmer and causes the swimmer’s death.
- A person operates an all-terrain vehicle while intoxicated and strikes another rider, which results in partial paralysis.
This list is not exhaustive. There are many ways that an individual may commit a vehicular crime in New York.
During the years of 2012-2014, there were nearly 1,100 deaths and over 12,000 injuries requiring hospitalization per year in New York that was caused by vehicular accidents. Due to this, the law concerning vehicular crimes frequently receives updates and additions.
In 2009, New York adopted harsher penalties for vehicular crimes that involve children as passengers. This is known as Leandra’s Law. Essentially, if you operate a vehicle while your ability is impaired via alcohol or drugs or both, and cause serious injury or death to another person, it will be considered a vehicular crime.
If you or a loved one has been charged or you believe will be charged with a vehicular crime, please call one of our law offices today.
What are New York’s Vehicular Crime Laws?
New York law separates vehicular crimes into two separate areas based on what happens to the victim. If the victim suffers a serious physical injury, it is considered vehicular assault. If the victim dies, it will be considered vehicular manslaughter.
Each of these would have a harsher offense if the operator was driving recklessly. The crimes that involve reckless driving are considered aggravated offenses.
Here are New York’s laws that address vehicular crimes.
Vehicular Assault in the Second Degree
If an individual operates a vehicle while their driving is impaired by alcohol or drugs, or both, and causes serious physical injury to another person will be considered vehicular assault in the second degree. This is a class E felony.
- For example, if a driver that has a blood alcohol content of .10 and strikes another driver which results in permanent disfigurement of driver’s arm, it will be considered vehicular assault in the second degree.
Vehicular Assault in the First Degree
If a person has met all the conditions of vehicular assault in the second degree and meets another condition such as having a blood alcohol content above 0.18, has a child younger than 15 in their vehicle that is injured, it will be considered vehicular assault in the first degree.
If a person knows or has reason to know that their driving privileges have been suspended or revoked in another state for driving while under the influence, has a previous conviction of vehicular assault or similar crime in the last ten years, severely injures more than one person, it will be considered vehicular assault in the first degree. This is a class D felony.
- For example, if someone drives a vehicle while intoxicated with a blood alcohol content of 0.20 and strikes a pedestrian causing severe injuries, it will be considered vehicular assault in the first degree.
Aggravated Vehicular Assault
If a person has met all the conditions of vehicular assault in the first degree and is coupled with reckless driving, it will be considered aggravated vehicular assault. This is a class C felony.
- For example, if a driver is intoxicated, by ingesting large quantities of alcohol and drugs, and their driving is very erratic and strikes a vehicle from behind causing multiple serious physical injuries to passengers in both vehicles, it will be considered aggravated vehicular assault.
Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree
This is very similar to the vehicular assault in the second degree. However, instead of serious physical injury, the victim dies. This will be considered vehicular manslaughter in the second degree. This is a class D felony.
- For example, if a driver’s ability is severely impaired by hours of marijuana abuse and causes the death of a passenger in an accident, it will be considered vehicular manslaughter in the second degree.
Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree
This law is very similar to vehicular assault in the first degree, except instead of serious physical injury, there is death. If a person meets the conditions of vehicular manslaughter in the second-degree and meets an extra condition, such as elevated blood alcohol content or child passenger under 15 dies, it will be considered vehicular manslaughter in the first degree. This is considered a class C felony.
- For example, if a driver has a blood alcohol content of .10 and crashes into a barrier on the highway, which causes the death of a 12-year-old passenger, it will be considered vehicular manslaughter in the first degree.
Aggravated Vehicular Homicide
Like the vehicular manslaughter laws, this law is the counterpart to aggravated vehicular assault if the victim dies. If a driver meets the conditions of vehicular manslaughter in the first degree and their driving was reckless, it will be considered aggravated vehicular homicide. This is a class B felony.
- For example, a driver is severely intoxicated with a blood alcohol content of .22, drives erratically and strikes multiple objects in roadway and sidewalks, and hits a vehicle head-on and causes the other drive to die. It will be considered aggravated vehicular homicide.
It is important to note, that even though these crimes seem to be intertwined and an individual cannot be charged with multiple crimes from a single offense, New York courts have allowed this to happen.
- For example, a man was charged with multiple charges of vehicular manslaughter and aggravated vehicular homicide for the same offense. While the court may have recognized multiple charges of aggravated vehicular homicide was the same thing, combining vehicular manslaughter with aggravated vehicular homicide was not.
New York law states that if a driver is impaired and causes the injury or death of another person, it will be a vehicular crime. Based on circumstances, and if reckless driving was involved, will determine the specific charges against an individual. A single action can lead to multiple charges.
What are the conditions of a vehicular crime?
When an individual is charged with a vehicular crime, there a few conditions that need to be proven for any offense. First, they must prove that the individual was operating a vehicle. Second, it must be proven that the driver’s ability was impaired. Third, another person must have suffered serious physical injury or death from the driver’s impaired driving.
Operating a Vehicle
This one is the easiest element to prove. A vehicle is any craft that is propelled by force other than muscle power. This includes cars, trucks, trailers, boats, jet skis, sailboats, motorcycles, electric scooters, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, aircraft, etc. If it is motorized or utilizes any other force to propel itself other than muscle power, it will likely be considered a vehicle.
Driving Ability Was Impaired
Every driver’s ability to drive differs substantially. Also, some driver’s ability to drive after a few drinks, may also substantially differ from another driver. However, New York law states that a person’s ability to drive has been impaired when it reaches a certain limit, regardless of actual impairment. It defines that limit .08 blood alcohol content.
It is substantially impaired when it reaches .18. However, if a blood alcohol content is not available at the time of the accident, it can be deduced from the circumstances (a person who has been heavily drinking for the last 5 hours will be reasonably perceived as being substantially impaired). If drugs, including prescription drugs, are involved, it can also be deduced from the circumstances, even if chemical analysis results are not available.
It is important to note that New York’s vehicular crime laws state that if someone has been determined to have had to operate a vehicle with their driving impaired, it will be considered as the cause of accident and injury. It can be rebutted, but it is the automatic presumption.
Serious Physical Injury or Death
There is little ambiguity when it comes to death. However, death does not have to occur right away. If the death results from the impaired driving of an individual, even if the death occurred later at a hospital and care was negligent or inadequate, then that will still be attributed to the driver.
Serious physical injury is where an individual suffers an injury so severe that it is reasonable to believe it will cause death, or it causes the victim to receive extensive treatment, or it results in deformity or loss or impairment of organ function.
Lengthy hospital stays, the use of life-support devices to treat injuries, deformity to bones, severe injury requiring amputation, paralysis – these can all be considered serious physical injuries.
The conditions for it to be considered a first-degree offense are varied. Essentially, if your blood alcohol content was above .18, driving with suspended or revoked license for driving while intoxicated violation (or failure to comply), have previous vehicular crime convictions within the last ten years, injuring or killing more than one person, or had a child under the age of 15 in your vehicle that was badly injured or died, it will be considered a first degree offense.
The extra condition to have a crime become aggravated rather than a first-degree offense is the condition of reckless driving. Reckless driving is where an individual operates a vehicle or an accessory to a vehicle in such a way that it dramatically interferes with the use of a public highway or puts people that use it in danger.
Excessive swerving, driving through stop signs and red lights, hitting parked vehicles or other objects off the side of the road, driving upon sidewalks or other adjacent property to roadways, excessive speeding, etc. – these all can be considered reckless driving.15
Even though there is a presumption that your impaired driving caused the injury if it is shown that you were driving impaired at the time of the accident, it is rebuttable.
If you can show another reasonable cause for why the accident or the physical injury occurred that was not a result of your impaired driving, the prosecution will not have all the required conditions to convict you of a vehicular crime properly. To address all possible defenses, please give our firm a call today.
The conditions present in all vehicular crimes are the operation of a vehicle, impaired driving due to alcohol or drug usage, and the serious physical injury or death of another person.
Are there other crimes that usually accompany charges of vehicular crimes?
Vehicular crimes, by their definition, require another crime to be committed to establishing that a vehicular crime occurred. They are driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs are associated with crimes.
If charged with an aggravated offense, there could be a charge of reckless driving. Property damage is another charge that often accompanies a charge of vehicular assault or vehicular manslaughter. In certain circumstances, there could be manslaughter charges.
There are also similar federal laws if the actions occur on federal property or federal waters.
Court cases on vehicular crimes in New York
In People v. Goldblatt, the court determined that there was sufficient evidence of reckless driving but reversed for a new trial due to the incorrect jury instruction.
- In 2010, the defendant was operating his vehicle while intoxicated and struck and killed two pedestrians. The defendant was charged with a variety of crimes, including aggravated vehicular homicide. He was found guilty by a jury on all charges. Defendant appealed on the grounds that reckless driving was not established and that the jury was improperly instructed.
Defendant asserted that the reckless driving component of aggravated vehicular homicide was not established since the operation of his vehicle did not rise to the level of recklessness.
The court disagreed stating that his failure to heed a traffic sign, striking pedestrians who were at least 5 feet away from the paved portion of the road, his failure to see the bright clothing and accessories of the pedestrians, and his high level of intoxication, all established that defendant’s driving was reckless.
The court did agree with the defendant that the jury instruction that failed to indicate that reckless driving for the operation was grounds for a new trial that included proper jury instruction.
To read the case in full, please click here. Or copy and paste the link below.
In People v. Prue, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that vehicular manslaughter in the second degree was against the weight of the evidence.
- Defendant and two buddies had been drinking excessively at a local establishment. One individual laid in the back seat while the defendant drove the vehicle. Defendant missed a curve and drove into a ditch. Instead of seeking medical attention for the injured passenger, defendant struggled to remove his vehicle from the ditch.
Later, the passenger died to aspiration of vomit due to a concussive injury. After being assessed as having a very high blood alcohol content long after the accident, the defendant was arrested and charged with a host of crimes. He was later convicted and charged.
Defendant asserted that his conduct was not grossly negligent and that even if it was, the passenger died by choking on his own vomit. The court found his arguments unpersuasive since the expert pathologist stated that the passenger died due to the concussive injury that resulted from the accident.
The passenger was unable to clear his airways adequately after such an injury.
The defendant’s conviction was affirmed.
To read the case in full, please click here. Or copy and paste the link below.
In People v. Mojica, the court determined that the rebuttable presumption standard in the vehicular crime statutes were constitutional.
- In 2006, the defendant crashed into a police vehicle while running a red light that caused the officer to remain hospitalized for a month and delayed his return to work for 6 months.
The defendant was taken to a hospital where he was subsequently arrested after the officer determined with probable cause that the defendant was intoxicated. His blood alcohol content was found to be more than twice the legal limit. He was convicted on four different charges.
The defendant appealed his conviction stating that the vehicular assault statute amendment that created the rebuttable presumption was unconstitutionally vague and deprived the defendant of his due process rights.
The defendant also contested that the police officer was suffering from serious physical injury since he was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. The court disagreed. It determined that there was no ambiguity in the statute and it only created the rebuttable presumption if it was reasonable to believe that the impaired driving caused serious physical injury.
The evidence was clear that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident and it was reasonable to believe that defendant ran a red light and struck the police vehicle due to his impairment. The constitutionality of the rebuttable presumption standard in the vehicle crime statutes was upheld, and the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.
To read the case in full, please click here. Or copy and paste the link below.
What are the possible penalties for vehicular crimes?
All vehicular crimes are felonies. And many incidents of vehicular crimes will carry additional charges of other crimes.
Vehicular assault in the second degree is a class E felony whereas aggravated vehicular homicide is a class B felony. The penalties for these range from a minimum fine of 1,000 dollars to a maximum of 5,000 dollars. The prison time for these can range from anywhere to 1 year in prison to 25 years in prison. Also, an individual will most likely have their license suspended or revoked. In some cases, the revocation could be permanent.
The penalties for vehicular crimes are varied. However, an individual could be facing multiple charges of multiple crimes and could be facing a 5,000-dollar fine, up to 25 years in prison, and permanent loss of their driver’s license.
I have been charged with a vehicular crime. What should I do?
Being charged with a vehicular crime can cause serious problems in yours and your loved ones’ lives. It can cause difficulties with work demands, family obligations, and other responsibilities. The potential suspension or revocation of your driver’s license could have severe ramifications.
These are obstacles that you should not face alone. You need a legal team who has been able to help individuals who have been charged with vehicular crimes. Our team of attorneys has the proper knowledge and experience to represent you best. We can help you through the entire process and provide the comfort that you have a legal team who will work hard for you to provide the best possible outcomes.
Call our offices today for a free legal consultation!