By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Car accidents are frequent and virtually never result in criminal charges beyond a citation. Tragically, roughly 3,500 Texans die per year in car accidents. So here’s the million-dollar question – how can someone be criminally charged with vehicular homicide for what may very well have been an accident?
Why are They Prosecuting a Common Accident?
Let’s be clear about the key ingredient and common denominator of any prosecution like this. Its grief, anger, and the pain of someone losing a loved one. The law is highly subjective and allows for massively different interpretations.
The fact really is you could make the argument ANY car accident, no matter how minor, could be prosecuted criminally but they aren’t because it’s simply never worthwhile for law enforcement – particularly when personal injury lawyers and insurance companies make such regular and efficient work of every-day situations.
But with a fatality the stakes are obviously higher.
Manslaughter & Criminally Negligent Homicide
Vehicular deaths not related to alcohol or intoxication are normally prosecuted as either Manslaughter or Criminally Negligent Homicide.
Manslaughter is the more severe charge in Texas, a 2nd Degree Felony. Criminally Negligent Homicide is a State Jail Felony.
The difference between the two is what lawyers call the “mental state” or “mens rea” of the driver. The two-second version is this: Criminally Negligent Homicide is where you “ought” to know your driving is exceptionally dangerous and manslaughter is where you know your driving is extremely dangerous and just don’t care.
Both Criminally Negligent Homicide and Manslaughter require proof of “causation.” That is, the poor driving of Defendant actually caused the death of the person or persons.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He has been designated as a Super Lawyer by Thomson-Reuters in 2019.