What Does “Vehicular Manslaughter” Mean?

Facing vehicular manslaughter charges?

If you were involved in a car accident that caused the death of another person, the consequences could be serious. Not only do you have to deal with the guilt of what happened and wonder what you could have done to prevent it, but you could be up against some serious criminal charges.

But what does “vehicular manslaughter” mean and how can an experienced criminal defense attorney help you through this heavy legal matter?

Let’s walk through Missouri statutes and definitions regarding vehicular homicide, what you’re up against, and how Rose Legal Services can help.

Missouri Law and Vehicular Homicide

Vehicular manslaughter (also known as “vehicular homicide”) is defined as “causing the death of a human being due to illegal driving of an automobile.”

This definition includes acts of drunk driving, speeding, reckless driving, and gross negligence.

The person who lost their lives as a result of the illegal driving act could be any number of people, including:

  • The other driver
  • A passenger of any vehicle involved
  • A pedestrian bystander
  • A cyclist

Since such an incident involves a fatality, vehicular manslaughter is one of the most serious criminal offenses. However, not all states distinguish vehicular manslaughter from “involuntary manslaughter,” including the State of Missouri.

This means that states without a specific vehicular manslaughter statute – like the Show-Me State – may still prosecute a person who causes the death of another by operating a motor vehicle unlawfully or with gross negligence. The charge would simply fall under the state’s involuntary manslaughter statute.

How Are Vehicular Manslaughter Cases Handled vs. Involuntary Manslaughter Cases?

Other state legislatures, like neighboring states Kentucky and Tennessee, have enacted (or plan to enact) specific vehicular homicide statutes. This type of legislation is an effort to reduce the number of fatalities caused by motor vehicle crashes and compensate victims for their loss.

Such statutes generally allow for easier convictions and more severe penalties than the standard involuntary manslaughter statute.

Ordinary Negligence Vs. Gross Negligence

Ordinary negligence occurs when a person that has a duty of care fails to provide it—whether through a specific act or a failure to act—and causes harm or loss to another person. In a traffic situation, negligence simply means that the person is at fault for the collision that caused harm.

In situations where a car accident causes the death of another person, the at-fault driver will not necessarily be charged with involuntary manslaughter or any crime at all. Their negligence simply means that they are responsible for monetary compensation through their insurance provider or their own assets.

Gross negligence, however, occurs when the negligent party recklessly disregards the safety of those around them. When gross vehicular manslaughter occurs, the at-fault driver may face criminal charges.

How Does the Prosecution Prove Gross Negligence?

To convict a driver of vehicular manslaughter in the state of Missouri, the prosecution must prove – beyond a reasonable doubt – that the driver acted recklessly or with gross negligence while behind the wheel.

Some common examples of reckless driving or gross negligence that leads to an involuntary manslaughter charge include:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Texting and driving
  • Drunk or impaired driving
  • Running a traffic light
  • Disregarding road signs
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road

An experienced criminal defense attorney can develop a strategic defense strategy for your case that will either prove you were not acting with gross negligence or cast doubt on whether you were driving recklessly.

Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter in Missouri

The sentences for involuntary manslaughter after a motor vehicle crash in Missouri depend heavily on the circumstances of the car accident. Ultimately, the case may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

For example, a driver who causes a fatal accident by going only a few miles above the posted speed limit will likely only be charged with a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year in jail.

In contrast, an intoxicated driver would likely be charged with a felony and face a much steeper penalty, including significant prison time.

Every year, states enact tougher and tougher DWI laws, especially in cases in which a fatality occurs. In some states, previous DWI offenders who are at fault in a fatal car accident can be hit with a second or even first-degree murder charge.

Charged With Vehicular Manslaughter? Get the Legal Aid You Need

If you find yourself facing a vehicular manslaughter charge in the Show-Me State, your best course of action is to contact an experienced Missouri criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

These are serious charges and they require the assistance of an experienced lawyer who can research the facts of the case, develop a reasonable defense, and provide you with professional legal advice.

Author Bio

Scott Rose, an experienced criminal defense lawyer and founder of Rose Legal Services, has been practicing law for over 20 years. He is dedicated to representing clients facing criminal charges and providing legal representation on various cases, including DWI, misdemeanor, and felony cases.

After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, he gained valuable experience working for a United States Senator and as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Chief Judge of a United States District Court. Throughout his legal career, W. Scott Rose has committed to providing high-quality legal representation to his clients, earning him a spot in the National Top 100 Trial Lawyers.

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