Motor Vehicle Homicide in Massachusetts

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Motor Vehicle Homicide Defense Attorney

In Massachusetts, every car accident that results in a death is investigated as a motor vehicle homicide regardless of the circumstances.  Our lawyers have over 20 years of experience handling motor vehicle homicide cases as both a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney and they are among the most difficult and challenging motor vehicle charges to handle.

We can help you through the process and get you the best possible result.

Most people charged with this offense are just regular people who are accused of driving their vehicle "negligently" and causing the death of another person, either a passenger, pedestrian or driver of another vehicle.

Others were not driving negligently, but are alleged to have been driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they caused the death.  Obviously, some are accused of both negligent operation (or, with more egregious allegations, "reckless operation") and operating under the influence.

Depending on the circumstances, motor vehicle homicide can be either a felony or a misdemeanor. Defending a Vehicular Homicide case is complicated and requires a deep knowledge about the type of investigation that is being conducted, the science used by the prosecution's Accident Reconstructionist in coming to certain conclusions about your driving, and Massachusetts law applicable to motor vehicle homicide offenses.

What are the Elements of a Vehicular Homicide in Massachusetts?

In other words, what must the prosecution prove to convict you of vehicular homicide?  This depends on what specific section of the statute you are charged with and whether you are charged with the felony or misdemeanor version.

Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Homicide

Negligent Operation or While OUI

To prove the defendant guilty of Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Homicide, the Commonwealth must prove 4 things beyond a reasonable doubt:

First: That the defendant operated a motor vehicle;
Second: That the defendant did so: on a public way; or in a place where the public has a right of access; or in a place where members of the public have access as invitees or licensees; and

Third: That the defendant did so negligently to endanger the lives or safety of the public or
Third: That the defendant was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or other intoxicating substance (drugs), or with a BAC of .08 or greater; and

Fourth: That in doing so, the Defendant caused the death of another person.

The key here is that the prosecution can prove either of the third elements: a) negligent operation or b) impairment by alcohol (or drugs) or a BAC of .08 or greater.

Penalties for Conviction of Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Homicide
  • Incarceration: Up to 2.5 years in the House of Corrections (If sentenced, 30 days is mandatory)
  • License suspension: 10 years; lifetime for a 2nd Offense
  • Fines/fees: $300 - $3,000

The 30 days minimum mandatory only applies if you are sentenced to jail, which means that it is still possible to receive probation and avoid jail time.

The license suspension is imposed by the Registry of Motor Vehicles and cannot be avoided upon conviction.  There is also no hardship eligibility for the entire 10 years.

Felony Motor Vehicle Homicide

Reckless Homicide by Motor Vehicle

If instead of proving that the defendant operated negligently so that the lives or safety of the public are endangered, the government proves that the defendant operated the vehicle recklessly, the offense becomes a felony.

Penalties for Conviction of Reckless Homicide by Motor Vehicle
  • Incarceration: Up to 2.5 years in the House of Corrections or up to 5 years in State Prison;
  • License suspension: 10 years; lifetime for a 2nd Offense
  • Fines/fees: up to $3,000

For the purpose of this section, a person operates recklessly when that person "consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered."

Negligent Operation and While OUI

In terms of the elements, the only difference from the misdemeanor charge the is that, with a Felony Motor Vehicle Homicide charge, the Commonwealth must prove both negligent operation and the involvement of alcohol or drugs.  In other words:

Third: That the defendant operated the motor vehicle either negligently or recklessly so as to endanger the lives or safety of the public; and 
Fourth: That while operating the vehicle, the defendant was under the influence of intoxicating liquor or other intoxicating substance (drugs) or with A BAC of .08 or greater.

Penalties for Conviction of Homicide Motor Vehicle While OUI
  • Incarceration: 1.0 to 2.5 years in the House of Corrections (1 year is mandatory); 2.5 to 15 years in State Prison
  • License suspension: 15 years; lifetime for a 2nd Offense
  • Fines/fees: up to $5,000

Here, the minimum mandatory sentence of one year is enforced and you will serve a minimum of one year upon conviction.  Again, the 10-year loss of license is without hardship eligibility.

Criminal Defense FAQ

We Hope This Helps!

As a criminal defense lawyer, the fact that you clicked this accordion drives me crazy!

NO, you shouldn't! At least not without a lawyer after careful consideration.

Think about it. The police have a job, which is to solve crimes and bring criminal charges. The only reason for them to call you is because they are looking for evidence and there is no better evidence than your statement. Very often, they are calling you because they don't have enough evidence to charge you yet and they're looking to make their case with your statements.

They are not your friends. They are not trying to help you. There is nothing to "clear up". They will not go away if you just admit it and take responsibility.

Seriously, don't speak to the police without consulting a criminal defense lawyer first. It may be that we ultimately decide to give a statement, but only if it will help your case and after careful consideration!

First, unless you have committed a very serious crime, the chances of you going to jail are minimal (especially if you hire a good attorney). In any event, this is not something that typically would happen until many months down the road.

We're not going to lie to you, if the prosecution can meet the burden of proof on your case, there will be consequences, ranging from a slap on the wrist to jail time. Our job is to minimize the consequences and to eliminate them, if possible.

Of course, this depends on the charges, your criminal history and many other factors, so please feel free to reach out and we can give you a more specific answer.

No, no, no, no no! Even if you decide to eventually take responsibility, your lawyer should negotiate the best deal possible. What this means depends entirely the circumstances of your criminal charge, but very often you can take responsibility and still avoid a permanent criminal record. It may also involve:

  • Pre-Trial Probation or Pre-Trial Diversion
  • An outright Dismissal of your charges upon payment of court costs
  • A Continuation Without a Finding, including the length and terms of your probation (after which the case is dismissed)
  • A period of straight probation without a jail or state prison sentence
  • A suspended sentence, where a sentence is imposed, but not served unless probation is violated
  • A lesser sentence to jail or prison and less severe conditions upon release

This is to say nothing of the fact that your case may be winnable on a motion to dismiss or at trial!

In many cases, yes. Some cases have issues that may justify a Motion to Suppress or a Motion to Dismiss for lack of evidence.

Others can and should be taken to trial, or call for a plea as soon as possible so the client can move on with their life.

The decision on what to do really depends on the facts of the case and your individual goals.

This is why it is important to speak to an experienced Massachusetts criminal attorney who can quickly evaluate your specific case to see if there are any issues worth pursuing.

Related Content:

Strategy and Potential Issues in Massachusetts Criminal Cases

As a criminal defense lawyer, the fact that you clicked this accordion drives me crazy!

No, do NOT talk to the police without a lawyer. They are not your friends. They are not trying to help you. They will not go away if you just admit it and take responsibility.

Their job is to gather evidence of crimes and there is no better evidence than your statement.

It may be that we ultimately decide to give a statement, but only if it will help your case and after careful consideration!

It is very possible that you can avoid a criminal record, especially if you don't have a significant criminal history and and it is a relatively minor offense.

The answer to this question is very case-specific, depending on the facts of your case and what we decide to do with it.

A vast majority of our criminal cases cases are handled on a flat fee basis, ranging from a clerk-magistrate's hearing to superior court or federal court cases.

All we can tell you is that we are always up front and honest, and will treat you fairly. We're also willing to work with you on payments if we can, as this is not all about the money.

Of course, it is prefereable to have an attorney at the arraignment, but don't panic! First, you can call or text me at any time and I may be able to be there. If not, take a look at this link for all the information you need:

Arraignment in Massachusetts – What You Need to Know.

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