Under some circumstances a DUI can become the basis of criminal charges. The obvious instance would be if someone died as a result of an accident involving an intoxicated driver. Below are a few examples.
I. Vehicular Manslaughter
In New Jersey, a person can be convicted of “vehicular homicide” (sometimes called “vehicular manslaughter”) for causing the death of another person by operating a vehicle or boat recklessly.
Recklessness. A person operates a vehicle or boat recklessly by consciously disregarding a “substantial and unjustifiable risk.” In other words, the person knows the manner of driving or boating poses a significant danger to others but decides to do it anyway.
Causation. A driver can’t be convicted of vehicular homicide unless there’s proof that the reckless driving was a cause of the victim’s death. It’s not enough to merely show the defendant drove recklessly and someone died—there needs to be a link between the reckless driving and the death.
increase the penalties for a vehicular homicide conviction.
Vehicular Homicide Penalties The consequences of a vehicular homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:
- Standard vehicular homicide. In most cases, vehicular homicide is a second-degree crime. A conviction generally carries between five and ten years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. However, the offender may become eligible for parole release prior to completing the entire prison sentence.
- Offenses involving intoxication or a suspended license. Defendants who commit vehicular homicide while intoxicated or on a license that was suspended for a DWI or BWI are guilty of a second-degree crime and subject to the standard penalties (see above.) However, these offenders additionally face a minimum prison term of at least three years. An offender can’t become eligible for parole until the minimum term is complete. Defendants who were intoxicated while committing vehicular homicide also face a license suspension of five years to life.
- Aggravated vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide committed within 1,000 feet of a school or in a school crossing is considered an aggravated offense. Aggravated vehicular manslaughter is a first-degree crime. Anyone convicted faces a ten-to-20-year prison sentence and up to $200,000 in fines.
II. Assault by Auto
Assault by auto is an extremely serious charge that can be even worse if you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The law in New Jersey contains a specific provision that addresses assaults involving automobiles. When someone other than the accused drunk driver suffers injuries as a result of an accident caused by a DWI, the police may file a separate charge known as assault by auto. Unlike a DWI charge in New Jersey, which is a traffic violation instead of a criminal charge, assault by auto is a criminal charge. Assault by auto occurs if a person drives a vehicle recklessly and causes a bodily injury to another person. Bodily injury is defined as physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical condition, and a serious bodily injury is a bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or serious, permanent disfigurement, or the protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.
The level of crime increases if the defendant is driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Thus, if someone violates the DWI statute while committing assault by auto, and a serious bodily injury takes place, the crime is elevated to a third-degree offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. If a bodily injury takes place while driving drunk, the crime is of the fourth degree, which can carry up to 18 months in prison. Penalties are increased if the accident takes place in a school zone.
III. Endangering the Welfare of a Minor
Endangering the welfare of a child in New Jersey is a criminal offense governed by N.J.S. 2C:24-4 which provides:
- Any person having a legal duty for the care of a child or who has assumed responsibility for the care of a child who engages in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of the child, or who causes the child harm that would make the child an abused or neglected child as defined in R.S. 9:6-1, R.S. 9:6-3 and P.L. 1974, c. 119, § 1 is guilty of a crime of the second degree. Any other person who engages in conduct or who causes harm as described in this subsection to a child under the age of 16 is guilty of a crime of the third degree.
- Statutory Rape (with a minor under 16 years of age)
- Sexual Assault
- DYFS hearings
- Driving while Intoxicated (DWI) with a minor in the vehicle
- Child abuse
- Child neglect
- Child molestation
- Child pornography
Criminal cases involving a DUI are complicated, and a conviction results in serious penalties. You should have an experienced attorney by your side throughout the process. I have over 25 years experience successfully representing people charged with DUI and crimes. If you, a family member, or friend is charged with DUI or criminal charge, call me for a free comprehensive consultation. I’ll explain the charges, and how I can help you.
All the Best!
Randy C. Redden