Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle: When Traffic Accidents Go Wrong

Car Accident

On our roads and highways, tragedy can strike in an instant. Perhaps a distracted driver is texting on their cell phone, a speeding driver loses control of the wheel, or a car runs a red light in heavy traffic. When these types of accidents result in death, the charge is usually Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. While this charge is not a felony, it still can have life-altering consequences. If a traffic accident you were involved in has gone wrong, here is some information you will need to know.

Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle is defined in N.C.G.S. 20-141.4(a2) as (1) unintentionally causing the death of another person (2) while violating a state law or local ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic—other than impaired driving—where (3) commission of the offense is the proximate cause of the death.

Under this statute, if the death was accidental, and but for the traffic violation in question it would not have occurred, then a person may be convicted of Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. Almost any traffic violation, with a few exceptions, can potentially help contribute to the cause of another’s death. The law is written broadly so that moving violations such as unsafe following, improper lane changes, speeding, and even a failure to use a turn signal could be interpreted to give cause to Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. Some offenses such as improper equipment in the car, a window tinting violation, driving while license revoked or on an expired registration are not offenses associated with Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. The offense itself would have to have some role in the death that occurred in order for the charge to move forward in court.

All deaths are not punished equally under the law. Since deaths that occur in traffic accidents are nearly always unintentional and drivers can make any number of legal violations that lead to catastrophe, they are punished as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle is punished as a Class A1 misdemeanor, which is the highest-level misdemeanor punishment. Even a first-time offender can be punished by up to 60 days in jail and the maximum amount of punishment by law for this crime is 150 days in jail. That amount of jail time alone can result in losing your job and severely disrupting your daily life. Additionally, criminal charges are often resolved in advance of more costly civil proceedings. A conviction of the criminal offense could be used during those proceedings to ensure that a civil judgment is made against you.

Any case involving a death by vehicle is considered an implied consent offense. That means when a person is involved in a vehicle accident that causes the death of a passenger or another party, that person is subject to the testing of breath or blood for impairing substances. If impairment was the proximate cause of the death of another in a vehicle accident, that activity is covered by felony death by vehicle. But if the driver is not impaired at all, that death can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. Failure to consent to the blood draw or breath test may result in the police obtaining a warrant to collect that evidence and even result in loss of driving privileges for an entire year.

If you have found yourself accused of being responsible for the death of another person due to an accident beyond your control, you need attorneys who will zealously defend you. Here at Jetton & Meredith, we will fight to make sure that your voice is heard in court. These cases are the most serious that are ever heard in District Court, since someone has lost their life. You can hire us to protect yours, and your future.