What is Vehicular Homicide?

A driver who causes the death of another person while operating a vehicle can be charged with murder in some jurisdictions. This crime is known as “vehicular homicide.” Murder charges are divided into different groups based on the circumstances of the case. A first-degree murder is committed when someone decides to end the life of another person and intentionally carries out the act. Felony murder is a felony charge in which the death of another person is caused while a crime is already in progress. A case of vehicular homicide can be placed into one of these categories depending on the specific events that transpired in the case.

Proving Malice in a Vehicular Homicide Case

To prove that a murder has been committed, evidence of malice must be presented. Malice is the intent to do harm to another person that differentiates between an intentional killing and an accident. To prove that malice is present, it is not necessary to show that anger or ill will is an element of the crime. Also, mitigating circumstances can show that a defendant was incapable of acting out of malice even if the killing was intentional. For example, a defendant who is mentally incapacitated may not be able to act with malice as a primary motivating factor.

Requirements for Felony Murder

In a vehicular homicide case where malice has been proven, a charge of felony murder can be assessed if the defendant performed certain actions. Essentially, the defendant must have engaged in activity that resulted in a vehicular homicide while also committing a felony. Felony murder can charged if:

  • The defendant used a car to kill someone while fleeing the scene of a felony crime.
  • The defendant committed the homicide while attempting to commit a felony, whether or not he was successful is irrelevant.
  • The homicide took place during the actual commission of the felony. The felony does not have to be violent in nature.
  • The suspect’s actions fall under the specifications of the felony murder statute of the state where the crime was committed.

Not all states or jurisdictions have a felony murder statute. Additionally, the ones that do may have different definitions of the crimes that are covered by the statute. It is up to the judge, the prosecution and state and local laws to determine if a particular vehicular homicide case can also be regarded as a felony murder case. Factors like a defendant’s criminal history, driving record, intoxication at the time of arrest or level of mental capacity can all play a part in the nature of the sentence that is handed down by the judge. However, in general, only crimes that are considered felonies can upgrade a crime to felony murder or first-degree murder.