Car accidents are unfortunately a common occurrence, happening every day across Utah. While most of these accidents result in only minor damage or injuries, some accidents are very serious and can ever result in the death of one of the drivers, a passenger, or a person on the street. Depending on the circumstances, you can be charged with a serious crime for killing someone in a car accident, particularly if you behaved in some reckless way, such as driving drunk. Below, our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explain when you can be convicted of a crime and go to jail for accidentally killing someone in a car accident and how we can help defend you against such a charge and bring your case to the most positive possible resolution.
When Can You Be Charged with a Crime for Accidentally Killing Someone in a Car Accident in Utah?
There are two potential charges that you might face if you were the driver of a vehicle that killed someone in a car accident. The first, and more serious of the two, is “automobile homicide,” which is sometimes referred to as vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter. Automobile homicide can be charged if a deadly car accident results from the person operating a motor vehicle in a negligent manner who has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of operation, or is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle, or was unlawfully using a cell phone or other wireless communication device while driving. If the actions that resulted in the death were caused by “simple negligence,” the charge is a third-degree felony. If it was caused by “criminal negligence,” the charge is a second-degree felony.
The second charge you might face is negligent homicide. According to the statute, criminal homicide constitutes negligent homicide if the actor, acting with criminal negligence, causes the death of another, but there is no DUI or distracted driving involved. In the context of a car accident, this could occur if you commit some sort of criminally negligent accident, like joyriding down the wrong side of the street. This charge is a class A misdemeanor. For the purposes of both charges, the Utah code defines criminal negligence as when one “ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise in all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”
Can You Face Jail Time for Accidentally Killing Someone in a Utah Car Accident?
You can definitely face jail time if you are convicted of either automobile homicide or negligent homicide in the state of Utah. In the case of automobile homicide resulting from simple negligence, a third-degree felony, you can face up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 in fines if convicted. In the case of automobile homicide resulting from criminal negligence, a second-degree felony, you face between 1- 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. For a class A misdemeanor like negligent homicide, you can face up to a year in jail and up to $2,500 in fines. In addition, as per the code, “a person who is convicted of violating this section shall have the person’s driver license revoked under Section 53-3-220 if the death of another person results from driving a motor vehicle.”
How Will a Typical Automobile Homicide or Negligent Homicide Case Unfold in Utah?
Once you are arrested for either automobile homicide or negligent homicide, you will be taken to the local police station for the booking process. Within 72 hours of your booking, an initial appearance and bail hearing will occur. At the initial appearance, the judge will read the charges against you and explain your rights during a criminal case. If you have been charged with a misdemeanor like negligent homicide, your arraignment, where you will be asked to enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty, will also occur at the initial appearance. In felony cases, this will occur later, after a potential preliminary hearing. In either situation, a skilled Utah attorney for a criminal arraignment like those at Overson & Bugden is likely to advise you to enter an initial plea of not guilty while we collect all the evidence and try to work out a deal with the prosecutor for the charges to be downgraded or dismissed.
At your bail hearing, the judge will decide whether you can be released or must remain in jail until the case is resolved. If you can be released they will also set bail, usually based on the amount suggested for your crime and your criminal history in the Utah Uniform Bail Schedule. However, a judge can set bail lower or higher than suggested if they find “extenuating circumstances” in your case, and an experienced bail hearing attorney like those at Overson Law, PPLC can make the best case for you to be released on little to no bail.
Once we have dealt with bail, we will turn our attentions to trying to negotiate a deal with the prosecutor for the charged to be dismissed or downgraded to something less serious, such as from an automobile homicide charge to a negligent homicide charge. Another possible deal is the prosecutor agreeing to recommend a sentence that does not include jail time in exchange for you pleading guilty. Of course, if you do not wish to take a deal, our battle-tested trial attorneys are always ready and able to fight for your innocence in the courtroom.
If You Are Facing Charges after a Deadly Car Accident, Call Our Experienced Attorneys Today
Even if your actions were accidental, killing someone in a car accident can often lead to serious charges that can result in a long jail sentence if you are convicted. At Overson & Bugden, our skilled Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers have years of experience successfully defending clients against automobile homicide and negligent homicide charges in courtrooms throughout the state. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.