Any motor vehicle accident causing death is a horrendous experience for all involved. And if you are accused of negligently or recklessly causing someone’s death in a car accident, you can be charged with motor vehicle homicide or manslaughter by motor vehicle under Massachusetts law.
If you are accused of leaving the scene of an injury resulting in death, or if you were allegedly impaired during the accident, the criminal charges are compounded.
In addition to all this, your name will probably be in the news, particularly if it is an alcohol-related accident that resulted in someone’s death. That kind of stress and shame can be overwhelming if you have made a terrible mistake.
And, unfortunately, this is the type of tragic event that could happen to anyone. A momentary distraction that wasn’t even your fault can have deadly consequences. We’ve all had careless moments behind the wheel that could have resulted in a terrible accident.
I want you to know that you have rights, and you need and deserve proper legal defense representation in court. Whatever lead you to this situation, you are innocent until proven guilty. A defense attorney like myself will fight on your behalf to get you the best possible outcome.
When it feels like no one is on your side, please contact me for a confidential legal defense consultation.
Massachusetts Motor Vehicle Homicide Laws & Penalties
Motor vehicle homicide charges can be either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on if the driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs.
For any motor vehicle homicide conviction in Massachusetts, you face a 15-year license loss. And it could be lifetime license suspension (revocation) if you have a prior OUI conviction on your driving record.
Your license is immediately suspended upon being charged with motor vehicle homicide. You will have to have a hearing at the Registry to get your license reinstated even if you are acquitted.
Misdemeanor Motor Vehicle Homicide Charge – Massachusetts Penalties
Woburn Superior Court
Not Guilty – Motor Vehicle Homicide
while OUI (Felony)
and Leaving the Scene of an Accident
After Causing Death
A homicide by motor vehicle can be a misdemeanor charge in many cases.
A motor vehicle homicide by negligent operation is charged when you are accused of driving negligently or recklessly, resulting in death.
The penalty for Misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide is:
- a Minimum of 30 days in jail, or up to 2 ½ years in the House of Correction.
- Fines range from $300-$3000.
Misdemeanor charges where the officer didn’t witness the incident typically result in a criminal citation to appear at a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing. Even with something as serious as a homicide.
This can happen if there was a bad accident, and the police respond. You can be cited at the scene for the act of reckless driving / negligent operation that caused the accident, but not arrested.
These hearings are evidentiary procedures to determine if there is sufficient probable cause to move forward with a formal criminal charge and an arraignment. With a charge this serious, and the standard for probable cause so low, it can be difficult to win these hearings outright. However, the hearing itself is still an important step in preparing a defense, and evaluating any evidence the Commonwealth is planning to use to prosecute a case.
Felony Motor Vehicle Homicide Charge -Massachusetts Penalties
To be convicted of felony motor vehicle homicide, the Commonwealth must prove that your driving negligently or recklessly caused death, while you were under the influence of an intoxicating substance (alcohol or drugs).
The penalty for felony vehicular homicide (Manslaughter while Operating Under the Influence, or OUI) under Massachusetts law 90 24G is
- A minimum 1 year in house of corrections, which must be served.
- The maximum is 15 years in state prison.
- Fine of no more than $5000.
You are not eligible for parole until after 1 year of sentence.
In addition, while on trial for OUI Manslaughter, you can expect careful monitoring and restriction from consuming alcohol. Many judges will require you to use an alcohol detection and monitoring device, such as a Sobrietor. Violation that requirement could result in you being held in jail.
Ref: MGL Ch 90 Sec 24
Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle
With essentially the same standard of proof as felony motor vehicle homicide, you can potentially be indicted and face a more serious charge of manslaughter by motor vehicle (manslaughter while operating a motor vehicle) in Massachusetts Superior Court.
Penalties for vehicular manslaughter under Massachusetts law 265-13 are as follows:
- Mandatory minimum of 5 years in jail.
- Maximum 5-20 years in prison.
- Fines up to $25,000.
- 15-year license loss
Frequently Asked Questions
How can a homicide charge only be a misdemeanor?
It does seem surprising to many people, but if the incident was essentially a terrible accident – even if the accused may have made a mistake or displayed poor driving – it is still only a misdemeanor under Mass law.
It’s not so crazy. Terrible accidents do happen. If someone is tragically killed directly by someone else’s action, there is an understandable desire for someone to be responsible under the law.
But every terrible thing doesn’t have an appropriate criminal legal remedy. And almost all of the time, there is no justice in seriously punishing someone who caused a tragic accident. There is no continuing public safety risk to be addressed for a freak incident, no matter how terrible.
Can you get a ticket for homicide and not be arrested?
Yes. That is how misdemeanor offenses work in Massachusetts. If the officer didn’t witness the offense, and it is a misdemeanor, such as a reckless driving incident, and you aren’t drunk you can’t be arrested.
The Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing process is used to determine probable cause for a criminal charge to formally be issued.
Are Motor Vehicle Homicide Penalties too lax in Massachusetts?
Some tougher sentencing advocates think so. There was a recent article in the Boston Globe that outlined how most people convicted of motor vehicle serve less than 2 years in prison.
We do not think the laws are too lax at all.
Attorney Andrew D. Berman of the Law Offices of Russell J Matson, PC is quoted in the Globe article, stated that juries can be sympathetic to someone who makes a horrible mistake that leads to someone’s death.
“It depends on the severity of the conduct”, and “There but for the grace of god go I”.
The OUI Manslaughter by Motor Vehicle law created under Melanie’s Law in 2005, which mandated tougher penalties for drunk driving, is rarely used. The Superior court charge sets a mandatory minimum penalty of 5 years in prison, in convicted.
The families of victims in these terrible tragic cases often want the toughest possible sentences issued.
But the larger question is, what problem are you actually trying to solve. In cases where the defendant has no previous criminal record or history of dangerous behavior, there is little reason to believe that this person is a continuing threat to public safety, even after a deadly mistake and lapse in judgment.