Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle charges are filed by the Polk County Attorney’s Office when someone unintentionally causes the death of another person by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner or while drag racing. A person is criminally liable for the death of another despite the fact that the death was unintentional. These charges differ from murder charges. In murder cases, the defendant not only intended to do the act that resulted in the death, but intended for the death to occur.
The three types of homicide or serious injury by vehicle carry different penalties. A person commits a 25 year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. A person commits a 10 year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner. A person commits a five year felony when he or she unintentionally causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle while drag racing.
A person commits a five year felony when he or she operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated, or in a reckless manner, and unintentionally causes serious injury to another person.
The charges and penalties are the same whether or not the victim was riding in the car with the defendant (such as a passenger riding with a drunk driver survives) or was the driver or occupant of another vehicle or a bicyclist or a pedestrian or other such person.
There are no mandatory minimum sentences for these crimes unless the defendant leaves the scene of the accident and fails to give aid or information at the scene. In that instance, the defendant would be required to serve 70% of his sentence before he or she would be eligible for parole. The purpose of that law is to encourage people to remain at the scene of the accident so that a determination can be made whether or not they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and/or were driving recklessly.
These cases are difficult to prosecute because many times there are no witnesses to the accident which must then be reconstructed from circumstantial evidence. On many occasions, these cases involve intoxicated drivers which mean that the highly technical requirements of the operating while intoxicated laws come into play which can make proof of the crime more difficult. In those instances, prosecutors from the OWI docket are consulted to assist in the response to OWI defenses.
Every motor vehicle accident that results in a death does not mean that a criminal charge should be filed. In all motor vehicle accidents, any death that results there from is unintentional. What makes it a crime is not whether a driver acted negligently, as in a civil case, but criminally which means recklessly and/or under the influence of alcohol or drugs which makes it a crime. At any given time, the Polk County Attorney’s Office has several homicides by vehicle cases pending.