Vehicular Manslaughter (A.R.S. §13-1103)
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In Arizona, per A.R.S. §13-1103, “Vehicular Manslaughter” normally involves the killing of a human being with one of the following elements present:
- recklessly causing the death of another
- intentionally or knowingly committing murder in the heat of passion or upon a sudden quarrel and resulting from adequate provocation by the victim.
Watch this short video where David explains Vehicular Manslaughter in Arizona:
To “recklessly” cause the death of another, the person must have been aware of, and consciously disregarded, a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstances existed. The risks must be of such a nature and degree that disregard of such risks constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. Normally, a prosecutor will charge someone with Vehicular Manslaughter if they were speeding far above the speed limit and/or if they were drunk or on drugs while driving.
The key elements to a successful defense against this charge are proving that the above factors did not occur by attacking the reliability and accuracy of the speed and blood alcohol content evidence presented by the prosecutor. Additionally, we must put forth our own evidence as to why the defendant’s actions did not cause a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” and not a “gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”
Possible Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter
If a Manslaughter occurs and there was no deadly weapon or dangerous instrument involved (i.e., if the jury determines the car was not a dangerous instrument), then the crime is categorized as a class two (2) “non-dangerous” felony, which carries the following range of punishments:
- A first offense ranges from probation with zero (0) days in jail to 1 year in jail -or- prison from 3 years to 12.5 years.
- If the person has one (1) allegeable historical prior conviction, then the “prison only” range is 4.5 years to 23.25 years in prison.
- If the person has two (2) allegeable historical prior convictions, then the “prison only” range is 10.5 years to 35 years of incarceration.
If the jury does determine there was a dangerous instrument (i.e., a car) or deadly weapon involved, the crime is categorized as a class two (2) “dangerous” felony and the range of punishment increases to the following:
- A minimum of 7 years in prison; the presumptive is 10.5 years in prison; and the maximum is 21 years in prison.
- The standard prosecution plea offer for a Manslaughter case is 7 to 12 years in prison!
Possible Defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter
The key to defending a vehicular Manslaughter charge normally lays within a proper accident reconstruction. It will be important to show that, first and foremost, the accident was the other person’s fault, or at a minimum that it was not the defendant’s fault. We would use an engineer to check the cars for any vehicle defects which may have contributed to the accident and would shift the blame away from the defendant. In addition, it must be shown that the defendant was not “reckless” in his actions during the accident. The standard of “recklessness” in Arizona is that the defendant was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result would occur or that a dangerous circumstance existed.
The risk must be of such a nature and degree that disregard of such risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. The key is demonstrating that the defendant did not ignore a “substantial and unjustifiable risk” by his driving because he was not acting unreasonably wild or dangerous. We would accomplish this by using a variety of investigative techniques and tools to challenge the state’s evidence.
If the prosecutor is claiming that speed was a factor in causing the accident, then we must show that the speed traveled by the defendant was not one that reasonable people would think was extremely dangerous to travel. Speeding does not become criminal, by statute, until it exceeds twenty-one (21) miles or more over the posted speed limit. If alcohol was a factor in contributing to the accident, then we must utilize all of the standard DUI defenses to show that breath / blood testing devices were inaccurate in their measurements.
Additionally, because our law firm fights conviction from all angles, we would assert a wide range of defenses and constitutional violations that apply in all criminal cases. The possibilities are numerous and diverse. One of those we frequently assert is a “Miranda rights violation.” In Arizona, the standard of whether any inculpatory statement (i.e., a statement which tends to admit guilt) is admissible into evidence is based upon a “voluntariness” standard.
If we can demonstrate that the police coerced you (i.e., intimidated or tricked you) into making a confession or inculpatory statement, or that they did not properly read you your Miranda Rights, then we can suppress those statements and any evidence gathered as a direct result of those statements. In addition, the “denial of right to Counsel” is another common defense which is often raised. This occurs when a suspect is in custody and requests to speak to their attorney, but is denied and questioning continues. Other defenses may include challenging the validity of any search warrant, or whether there were any “forensic flaws” during the investigation of your case. Depending on what else you have been charged with, this could include exposing flawed procedures regarding blood, breath, and urine testing; fingerprints analysis; DNA testing; etc.
Lastly, one of the most common defenses is exposing sloppy or misleading police reports which include everything from misstatements, false statements, flawed photo line-ups and inaccurate crime scene reconstruction. It is important to hire a skilled Vehicular Manslaughter lawyer to defend you who has knowledge of all the possible defenses to assert in your case.