Georgia Vehicular Homicide Charges

If you have been found to be at fault in an auto accident that resulted in a fatality, you are likely facing either a misdemeanor or felony vehicular homicide charge under Georgia law.  At Zeliff | Watson, we have a strong background in the defense of vehicular homicide cases and have the expertise and resources it takes to mount a defense to these charges.  If you or someone you know if facing vehicular homicide charges, read this helpful information written by our attorneys and call us to schedule a comprehensive consultation about the defense of your case.  We have over 30 years of combined experience not only defending homicide charges, but also the traffic offenses that comprise the charges in Georgia. We go to work in all Georgia courts, particularly around the north Georgia and metro Atlanta areas. 

The Two Severities of Vehicular Homicide in Georgia: Felony v. Misdemeanor

Under Georgia law, there are felony and misdemeanor grade vehicular homicide charges. A felony charge is punished more severely, and carries a 3-15 year prison sentence, typically.  Misdemeanor vehicular homicide charges are punishable by up to a year in jail, per charge.  Both felony and misdemeanor level charges can also carry court-ordered probation, as well as many other terms of conditions of probation. The following list, while not exclusive, does provide some typical vehicular homicide punishment terms:

FELONY:

  • 3-15 years in prison
  • A period of probation for any length of the sentence not spent in prison
  • Alcohol/drug evaluation, and any recommended treatment
  • Community service hours
  • Random alcohol and drug tests, with prescribed minimum frequency sometimes set in place
  • Driver’s license loss
  • Community support meetings
  • Victim Impact Panel, and other similar lectures

MISDEMEANOR:

  • Up to 1 year in jail per charge
  • A period of probation for any length of the sentence not spent in prison
  • Alcohol/drug evaluation, and any recommended treatment
  • Community service hours
  • Random alcohol and drug tests, with prescribed minimum frequency sometimes set in place
  • Driver’s license loss
  • Community support meetings
  • Victim Impact Panel, and other similar lectures
  • Defensive Driving

To be charged with felony vehicular homicide, you must have committed one of the following driving offenses, in addition to being involved in a fatal accident:

1.  Driving under the influence- Under Georgia law, you can be charged with driving under the influence in any number of ways, including: (a) less safe alcohol; (b) per se alcohol; (c) less safe drugs; (d) less safe inhalants; (e) less safe combination of alcohol and drugs; and (f) with certain illicit drugs in your system. (examples of (f) would include Schedule I controlled substances which carry no recognized medical use)

DUI Vehicular Homicide does not necessarily require a full DUI investigation to be performed.  In fact, often times a very limited investigation is able to be performed due to the nature and severity of crashes and accident scenes.  Additionally, law enforcement officers are not obligated to read Georgia’s implied consent notice if they know of a serious injury of fatality and have probable cause to suspect the at-fault driver is driving under the influence.

DUI vehicular homicide cases require a deep understanding of DUI laws, resources to investigate law enforcement’s own investigation, and the science behind chemical testing that is generally conducted in these scenarios.

2.  Reckless driving- Georgia’s reckless driving law is one of the most subjective criminal laws on the books. Reckless driving simply requires proof of driving in a manner that endangers persons or property.  Reckless driving is a question for a judge or jury to decide based on the facts the prosecutor is able to present in its case.  Speed, careless driving maneuvers, erratic driving, and a driver’s condition can all be factored into whether or not reckless driving has been committed.  Often, you will see law enforcement and prosecution teams lump a reckless driving charge in with a DUI vehicular homicide charge, knowing it gives them alternative ways to attempt to prove their case.

3.  Passing a school bus- Georgia law requires all cars meeting or overtaking a school bus, regardless of the direction they are traveling, to stop for busses with their lighting activated.  2018 will see a change to the law to clarify what type of roadways driver’s have a duty to stop on, but the intent to the law is certainly public safety- particularly for children.

4.  Hit and run- Under Georgia law, you are required to stop at the scene of an accident whenever there are injuries or even property damage.  Obviously, as it relates to vehicular homicide charges, the prosecutor will argue that with the injuries sustained, you had a duty to stop and assist after being involved in the accident.

5.  Fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer- In Georgia, failing to stop for a police officer constitutes either a misdemeanor or felony offense, and can be the basis for a felony vehicular homicide charge.

6.  Driving after being declared a Habitual Violator, and while license is revoked- If you are involved in a fatal traffic accident after you’ve been declared a habitual violator and had your license revoked, then you will be charged with felony vehicular homicide. 

Misdemeanor vehicular homicide charges can be comprised of any other traffic offense under Georgia law, to include minor traffic violations.  Some of the most common misdemeanor traffic offenses we see in these cases involve:

  • Failure to yield (or failure to yield while turning left)
  • Failure to obey a traffic control device
  • Speeding
  • Improper lane change or failure to maintain lane

However, any fatal accident where it is determined that you are in violation of one or more traffic offenses can support a misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge.  Unlike felony charges, misdemeanor vehicular homicide does not carry years in prison as a possible punishment, though there is still a possibility of jail time, and other terms and conditions of probation, as mentioned above. 

Our Approach in Defending Vehicular Homicide Cases

Quite simply, our approach to defending you in a vehicular homicide is to do whatever it takes to produce the best outcome possible.  We view our attorney-client relationship as one in which we work with you, not simply for you, to obtain the best possible outcome, no matter the circumstances.  From our initial intake, we will begin learning about you, about the incident, and about your goals and objectives moving forward. 

Frequently, these cases can take months and even into years for the State of Georgia to prosecute, and we understand that you will have questions and concerns throughout the process.  Our commitment is to always be accessible, and our staff is highly praised for their attentiveness and truly caring approach to our cases and clients.   While we must wait on the state to turn over evidence, we will certainly use what resources and powers we do have to learn about your case as expeditiously as possible.

Investigation of Vehicular Homicide 

Often, a vehicular homicide is investigated by a specialized accident reconstruction team of a local police department, or by the Georgia State Patrol.  This means that “experts” will be making charging decisions that will impact the rest of your life, so you want to be prepared with a team of experts of your own when the time comes.  At Zeliff |Watson, we work closely with some of the industry’s top experts with backgrounds in law enforcement, accident reconstruction, DUI investigations, pharmacology, toxicology, and related fields.  We have spent years in the courtroom defending charges, so we know what expert witnesses to bring to the table to mount a successful defense in your case.

Examples of areas we use expert witnesses include:

  1. initial investigation / report acquisition
  2. photographing roadway or vehicular evidence post collision
  3. obtaining witness statements early on
  4. reviewing field sobriety testing and investigative protocol
  5. toxicology consultations
  6. testimony for motions hearings to exclude illegally or improperly obtained evidence
  7. trial testimony regarding the investigation of your case, accident reconstruction, toxicology, witness statements, and any other relevant areas

Our Team at Zeliff | Watson

If you have been charged with vehicular homicide in Georgia, give us a call today.  Both Evan Watson and Peter Zeliff know the ins and outs of putting up a successful defense in all types of vehicular homicide scenarios and are willing to put our experience to work for you.  No matter the circumstances, we can absolutely make a positive difference in the outcome of your case.  We have taken many seemingly hopeless cases and through a careful and patient approach, obtained far better results than planned.

At Zeliff | Watson, we are not divorce attorneys.  We do not write wills.  We could not even find our way to the courthouse where you file a bankruptcy petition.  We do one thing and do it well: we defend serious criminal cases through all stages, including trial. 

If you have been charged with vehicular homicide, we can be reached 24/7/365 via our website contact form, or at (770) 676-1340.

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