Vehicular Homicide

If you have been charged with vehicular homicide in Georgia and you were under the influence of prescription medication when you were driving you do have a unique defense available to you that many lawyers in Georgia will sometimes overlook.  For starters, Georgia law does not punish you for mistake or an accident.  Meaning, if you are prescribed prescription medicine and drive after you took prescription medication you may be excused in your conduct through excusable ignorance.  There are several factors the jury will consider, but in my experience, you have to meet several criteria to have a more robust defense.  First, you have to be taking the drugs pursuant to a lawful prescription.  Second, you will need to be within therapeutic limits – meaning taking the drug as prescribed.  It doesn’t do good if you are prescribed 5 mg of a drug and you are taking three times the amount.  Third, your doctor or pharmacist told you not to drive after taking the medication.  Similarly, if your prescription bottle displays a warning of ‘do not drive under this prescription’ then you should not drive and your defense of accident or mistake is seriously weakened.  Fourth, it should be a newer prescription.  Why is this important?  It means you are unfamiliar with the reaction your body and/or mind has when taking the prescription medicine.

As mentioned, once you have been charged with Vehicular Homicide in Georgia and you are taking a medication as prescribed and the jury believes you did so through not knowing any better you can be excused from the criminal act.  Yes, nobody likes excuses – especially a jury – but if you truly did not have the intent to become impaired or did not know the effects of consuming a prescription medicine, Georgia law protects you.  It is important to understand the difference between justification and excuse.  Justification means you intended the act and consequences that stem from the act but you were justified.  An example may be self-defense where you shot and killed someone trying to kill you.  Excuse is where it is not justified, but excusable because of what is transpiring in your mind.  A top highly experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer can explain this to a jury.

Vehicular Homicide Charges in Georgia

Vehicular Homicide in Georgia is a tragic crime that carries harsh consequences.  When someone dies as the result of a traffic infraction, the result is a vehicular homicide criminal case.

Vehicular homicide can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. Vehicular Homicide in the 1st degree is when someone who, without malice aforethought, causes the death of an individual while at the same time committing other certain offenses. These offenses, below, coupled with the death of an individual, will upgrade the charge to a felony:

  • Passing a school bus
  • DUI
  • Reckless Driving
  • Fleeing or attempting to elude
  • Hit and Run
  • While license is suspended due to Habitual Violator Status

Misdemeanor Vehicular Homicide, known as Vehicle Homicide in the 2nd degree, is defined by causing the death of another, without an intention to do so, while violating any other traffic offense in Title 40. (See O.C.G.A. § 40-6-393). These traffic violations may include, for example, failure to maintain lane, running a red light, improper turn, or speeding. Any traffic offense (other than the ones in the bullet points above), which causes the death of another, will result in a Vehicular Homicide charge in the 2nd degree.

In both felony and misdemeanor Vehicular Homicide cases, Georgia law requires that the State prove that the driver’s conduct was a substantial factor in the “proximate cause” of the death.  This means that under Georgia law, sometimes the victim’s own negligence will not be relevant. This is where the defense can lie. Vehicular homicide cases involve intensive investigation phases for the Defense.  The defense may need accident reconstruction experts to quickly determine how and why an accident occurred.

What is the sentence if convicted of Vehicular Homicide?

On a felony Vehicular Homicide, the sentence carried 3 to 15 years in prison on this one charge. If, for example, there were also convictions for misdemeanor offenses, like speeding, from the same accident, the Judge could sentence those consecutively making the prison time much longer.

If convicted of a Vehicular Homicide in the 2nd degree, it is a misdemeanor offense, and the maximum penalty is 12 months in jail and/or a base fine of $1,000.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services will also act to suspend your license on a conviction for Vehicular Homicide. If convicted of a misdemeanor homicide by vehicle, Georgia will suspend your license for a minimum period of 120 days. On a misdemeanor, a limited permit may be available. On a felony homicide by vehicle conviction, Georgia will suspend your license for a period of three years.

If you or a loved one has been charged with Vehicular Homicide anywhere in the State of Georgia, call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999. The team of attorneys at W. Scott Smith PC are ready to aggressively defend you in your utmost time of need.


Is DUI a Felony?

In most instances, the crime of DUI is considered a misdemeanor in Georgia. A misdemeanor is defined as a crime that has a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail. If this is your first time being charged with a DUI and no one was hurt, you will be facing a misdemeanor DUI.  Additionally, even if this is your second or third DUI in a short period of time, your DUI will still be charged as a misdemeanor.

Misdemeanor Punishments

Even if you are facing a misdemeanor-level DUI, the State can stack punishment, and request a longer sentence by adding additional jail time to an underlying charge. For example, if you are charged with DUI and Failure to Maintain Lane, the Judge can sentence you up to 12 months on each charge, for a total of 24 months in custody. Additionally, misdemeanor DUIs do still appear on criminal histories and can require jail, probation, and a license suspension if you are convicted. The goal after a DUI arrest is to avoid a criminal conviction so you can avoid the harsh punishments associated with a conviction for DUI. 

When DUI is a Felony

There are situations where you will be facing a felony after a DUI arrest. A felony is defined as a crime that is punishable more than a year in jail. The first instance is when you are being charged with a fourth DUI within a 10 year period, measured from the dates of previous arrests. A fourth DUI within 10 years is a felony in Georgia, with considerable mandatory minimum jail time if convicted.

Another situation where a DUI is considered a felony in Georgia is if you were arrested for the crime of Serious Injury by Vehicle. This occurs when someone causes an accident resulting in bodily harm while Driving under the Influence. This felony is punished by imprisonment between 1 and 15 years. Bodily harm under Georgia law is defined as an injury to another person which deprives them of a member of their body, or renders part of the body useless, or seriously disfigures, or causes brain damage. There are certainly defenses to this serious crime including the causal connection as well as what constitutes a serious injury.

The final situation where a DUI is prosecuted as a felony offense is Homicide by Vehicle in the first degree, meaning you are arrested for DUI and someone actually dies in the accident. You can be charged with Homicide by Vehicle if it is your passenger who dies.  If convicted, the crime is punishable from 3-15 years. The law requires the State to prove a causal connection between the violation of the DUI statute and the victim’s death. However, under Georgia law, the person does not actually have to commit an unsafe act before facing this type of charge.

Call us today!

DUIs in Georgia require knowledgeable and skillful representation as the stakes are high. If you are facing a felony DUI, it is imperative to find a law firm with a track record of success, who are well-informed on the ever-changing aspects of DUI law in Georgia. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI, whether it be a misdemeanor or felony DUI, call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999. 

Serious Injury by Vehicle

              DUI and Reckless Driving charges are considered misdemeanors in Georgia. However, if you were arrested for DUI or Reckless Driving and there was an accident with serious injuries involved, it is likely you will be arrested for the felony offense of Serious Injury by Vehicle under O.C.G.A. § 40-6-394. 

What’s the Difference?

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is that misdemeanor crimes carry a maximum punishment of 12 months in jail, while felony charges could result in much lengthier punishment as society views felonies, generally, more harshly. Specifically, for the felony charge of Serious Injury by Vehicle, the minimum punishment is 1 year in prison, while the maximum is 15 years. Certain factos like the BAC or whether there was any prior convictions can elevate punishment significantly. Compare that to a Driving Under the Influence charge where the minimum punishment is just 24 hours.

What about my License?

              The Department of Driver Services also treats this crime harshly, and if you plea or are found guilty of Serious Injury by Vehicle, you are facing a driver’s license suspension for a period of three years in addition to the other requirements imposed by the Court.

              The State does not have to prove you committed an unsafe act like speeding, cutting someone off, or hitting someone’s vehicle from the back. They can proceed only on the fact you were DUI and caused an injury under the statute, even if you were not the cause of the accident.

        In order for the State to prove Serious Injury by Vehicle, they must prove the injuries were serious enough to fall under the statute. Courts have held broken bones, being unable to walk well for a period of time, and certainly brain damage, all to be sufficient for the state to proceed on felony charge.

Take the next step

              If you or someone you know have been arrested for Serious Injury by Vehicle, it is imperative to meet with a law firm who has a high-level skill in DUI defense as well as in Serious Injury by Vehicle cases. Your future and your freedom depend on it. Call us today for a free consultation at 404-581-0999.

by Mary Agramonte

Serious Injury by Vehicle and Vehicular Homicide in Georgia

You have been charged in Georgia with Vehicular Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle.  There is no way to describe in detail everything that needs to be done in order to reach a successful outcome for a client charged with Vehicular Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle in Georgia.  As with every type of Georgia criminal defense case, each case is unique, and there will never be a one size fits all recommendation on how to proceed.

Vehicular Homicide in Georgia provides:

(a) Any person who, without malice aforethought, causes the death of another person through the violation of subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-163, Code Section 40-6-390 or 40-6-391, or subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-395 commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the first degree and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than 15 years.

(b) Any driver of a motor vehicle who, without malice aforethought, causes an accident which causes the death of another person and leaves the scene of the accident in violation of subsection (b) of Code Section 40-6-270 commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the first degree and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than 15 years.

(c) Any person who causes the death of another person, without an intention to do so, by violating any provision of this title other than subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-163, subsection (b) of Code Section 40-6-270, Code Section 40-6-390 or 40-6-391, or subsection (a) of Code Section 40-6-395 commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the second degree when such violation is the cause of said death and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in Code Section 17-10-3.

(d) Any person who, after being declared a habitual violator as determined under Code Section 40-5-58 and while such person’s license is in revocation, causes the death of another person, without malice aforethought, by operation of a motor vehicle, commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the first degree and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than 20 years, and adjudication of guilt or imposition of such sentence for a person so convicted may be suspended, probated, deferred, or withheld but only after such person shall have served at least one year in the penitentiary.”

The Georgia charge of Serious Injury by Vehicle provides “Whoever, without malice, shall cause bodily harm to another by depriving him of a member of his body, by rendering a member of his body useless, by seriously disfiguring his body or a member thereof, or by causing organic brain damage which renders the body or any member thereof useless through the violation of Code Section 40-6-390 or 40-6-391 shall be guilty of the crime of serious injury by vehicle. A person convicted under this Code section shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than 15 years.”

What do you do if you have been charged in Georgia with Vehicular Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle?  The answer is going to depend on several factors.  Lets assume for this discussion the accident occurred more than one week prior to you reading this post and less than six months.  The accident happened in Georgia and you already gave a statement to law enforcement as to your recollection.

First, you want to retain a Georgia lawyer that is qualified to handle vehicular homicide cases.  The lawyer’s job will be to recreate the accident scene, assist you with your time line, assist in preserving your recollection and assisting in the investigation from the defense’s perspective.  The most important role will be in collecting and preserving evidence for the investigation.  Examples include: preserving phone records, marks on the highway, weather conditions from the accident day, videos from near the scene and credit card receipts.  Further, the serious injury Georgia lawyer will be a good sounding board for questions and expectations.  The Georgia vehicular homicide attorney will likely put the client on a to-do list involving things to help prepare the case.  The vehicular homicide or serious injury attorney will facilitate hiring an investigator and experts.  The attorney will also want to walk through the scene with the client as soon as possible.

As with anyone facing vehicular homicide charges or serious injury by vehicle charges, one of your immediate concerns will be bond.  If you cannot post a bond on a vehicular homicide case you are going to have no ability to earn money which is very much needed in order to prepare your case.  Further, the cases generally take slightly longer before formal charges are brought as there is almost always an accident reconstruction done by the city, county or State of Georgia that takes time to complete.  The case will not be indicted or accused until the final police accident report is approved.  You will want to be released on a nominal bond with as little conditions as possible.  The consideration for bond are the same as general criminal cases.  They include, likelihood to appear in court when summoned, danger to the community to commit a new felony offense, likelihood of harassing or intimidating witnesses, and your ties to the community.  In some vehicular homicide cases I have handled Judges have required special conditions in order to be released.  They include no driving, no alcohol and a treatment program.

Additionally, in the majority of cases, the injured party themselves or their family in a vehicular homicide case will need to be contacted.  If the fault is clear and the remorse is genuine, you will want to make the injured party or parties aware of your apology.  This step was an integral part of several vehicular homicide cases I successfully defended.  One reason is the prosecutor has a duty to consider the injured victim(s) input on desired outcome.  This is a very sensitive time and you must handle the communication in an appropriate manner.

Lastly, you will want to stop talking about the case to friends, family, law enforcement.  You will want to not post items to social media as your account will be monitored by someone from law enforcement or the victim’s family.  Any statements you make can potentially be used against you.  In rare cases, where you already made a statement to law enforcement, but left out exculpatory (items tending to prove innocence) information, you will want to supplement your statement to law enforcement.  This statement will be made through your attorney after properly being vetted for accuracy and potential harm to your case.

If you or a loved one is facing a Vehicular Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle charge, it is important you have an experienced criminal defense attorney with the experience and skill necessary to fight this case. Call us today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.