The tragedy of being involved in a fatal car accident is overwhelming enough. However, if someone died as a result of your reckless or negligent driving, or as a consequence of you driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you could go to jail and forfeit your driving privileges for many years.
Attorney Chris Spring prosecuted motor vehicle homicide cases when he was an assistant district attorney, and he has successfully defended individuals charged with motor vehicle homicide as a defense attorney. He defends negligent motor vehicle homicide cases (which are typically litigated in district court) and felony (drunk driving) motor vehicle homicide cases (which are prosecuted in superior court).
Massachusetts law recognizes two levels of motor vehicle homicide:
The driver was operating his or her vehicle in a negligent manner that directly caused or contributed to a fatal collision. The victim might be an occupant in another car, a pedestrian who was struck, or a passenger in the defendant’s own vehicle. This is one of the few crimes in Massachusetts where mere negligence (instead of an intentional act) can result in a criminal conviction. Negligence essentially means that the defendant failed to use “due care” when he was driving. The Commonwealth will prosecute drivers for negligent motor vehicle homicide even when the evidence of erratic operation is very weak. A conviction results in a mandatory loss of license for 15 years as well as possible jail time.
The driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as defined by OUI statutes, and caused or contributed to a traffic fatality. It is not enough to prove simply that the defendant was involved in a fatal car accident while under the influence of alcohol. The driver’s reckless or negligent operation, while under the influence of alcohol, must have caused the accident that killed another person. A conviction carries a mandatory term of at least one year in jail, plus a 15-year loss of driving privileges.
Some motor vehicle homicide defendants are also charged with leaving the scene of a death, a felony punishable by a minimum of one year in jail.
While these cases are tragic, there are usually viable defenses to the criminal charges. In a negligent operation case, for example, the victim’s own negligence may have been a significant factor in the crash. In a felony motor vehicle homicide case, the underlying evidence of operating under the influence may be challenged on a number of fronts. On charges of leaving the scene of death, the prosecution must prove that the driver knew he or she hit a person.
These cases are usually investigated by a division of the Massachusetts State Police that specializes in accident reconstruction. Therefore, Attorney Spring usually hires an expert on behalf of his clients to rebut the Commonwealth’s accident reconstruction expert. If you are charged with motor vehicle homicide, it is important that you speak to an attorney immediately. If your attorney intends to hire an expert, it is important for the expert to visit the accident scene as soon after the accident as possible.