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North Carolina Criminal Law § 20-141.4(a1): Felony Death by Vehicle

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Felony Death by Vehicle Felony Death by Motor Vehicle is a criminal charge, created by statute, involving a homicide that is a proximate cause of Driving While Impaired. Unlike Second-Degree Murder charges, malice is not an element of the offense.

Similarly, the mens rea (“evil mind”) for Involuntary Manslaughter and the conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others, is not required. Felony Death by Vehicle requires only the death of another human being due to Impaired Driving or Impaired Driving in Commercial Vehicle.

The jury must also convict the Defendant of Driving While Impaired as a condition precedent for Felony Death by Vehicle. If convicted by a jury of both Felony Death by Vehicle and Driving While Impaired, the Court must “arrest judgment” on the DWI offense.

If the jury finds the Defendant Not Guilty of Driving While Impaired, the Court must arrest judgment on the Felony Death by Vehicle offense.

In order to convict the Defendant of violating North Carolina Criminal Law North Carolina Criminal Law § 20-141.4(a1), FELONY DEATH BY VEHICLE the State must prove the following prima facie elements Beyond a Reasonable Doubt:

  1. Defendant drove a vehicle
  2. Defendant drove that vehicle on a public vehicular area, street, or highway
  3. In North Carolina
  4. Defendant was Driving While Impaired
  5. Defendant’s Driving While Impaired was A Proximate Cause in the death of another human being

The North Carolina Pattern Jury Instruction for Felony Death by Vehicle may be found in PJI 206.57A.

Driving While Impaired may be proven by evidence of any and/or all of the following factors:

  1. Appreciable Impairment – Loss of normal control of mental or physical faculties such that there is appreciable impairment of either or either of defendant’s mental or bodily faculties
  2. Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) - 0.08 or higher, as may be determined by blood, breath, or urine testing, at any relevant time after driving
  3. Schedule I Controlled Substance – Chemical Analysis through urine or blood testing indicates the existence of a Schedule I Controlled Substance, including metabolites of such controlled substance

Felony Death by Commercial Vehicle differs only in the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) prong of Impaired Driving, consistent with N.C.G.S. § 20-138.2 Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle. The State need only prove a blood, breath, or urine reading of 0.04 for Felony Death by Commercial Vehicle.

A commercial vehicle is defined as:

  1. Class A motor vehicle
    1. Gross Vehicle Weight Restriction of at least 26,001 lbs and
    2. Part of a Towed Unit Combination of at least 10,001 lbs
  2. Class B motor vehicle
  3. Class C motor vehicle
    1. Designed to carry 16 or more passengers
    2. Transporting hazardous materials as required by placarded

A controlled substance includes any psychoactive substance or drug capable of impairing the Defendant’s mental or physical faculties, alcohol, or any controlled substance under N.C.G.S. § 90 Controlled Substances Act.

2. Related Offenses
  1. Second-Degree Murder, Impaired Driving
  2. Involuntary Manslaughter
  3. Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle
  4. Impaired Driving – N.C.G.S. 20-138.1
  5. Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle – N.C.G.S. 20-138.2
3. Examples
  1. Defendant, a Commercial Driver with a Class A CDL (Commerical Driver License), consumes a sufficient quantity of alcohol such that his Blood Alcohol Concentration is 0.04. A wreck ensues, where Commercial Driver is partly to blame, and another human being is killed. Commercial Driver is operating his personal vehicle, a 2019 Honda Accord.

    The Commercial Driver cannot be convicted of Felony Death Commercial Vehicle, in that he is operating his personal vehicle that does not qualify as a Commercial Vehicle under N.C.G.S. 20-4.01(3d).

    Without more, the Commercial Driver also cannot be convicted of Felony Death by Vehicle in that the Blood Alcohol Concentration is below 0.08.

  2. Defendant is charged and indicted by a Grand Jury of Felony Death by Vehicle, Impaired Driving, and Reckless Driving. Upon being “charged” by the Court, using the NC Pattern Jury Instructions, the jury finds the Defendant Not Guilty of Driving While Impaired, Guilty of Felony Death by Vehicle, and Guilty of Reckless Driving.

    The Court must arrest judgment on the Felony Death by Vehicle, as the jury found the Defendant Not Guilty of the predicate offense of Impaired Driving. The judgment for Reckless Driving will stand.

  3. Defendant is indicted for Felony Death by Vehicle and Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle. After deliberation, the jury finds the Commercial Driver guilty of both. The Court must arrest judgment on the Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle as the Defendant cannot be sentenced to both offenses.

4. Defenses to Felony Death by Vehicle

In that Impaired Driving and/or Impaired Driving in a Commercial Vehicle are predicate offenses necessary for a conviction of Felony Death by Vehicle, traditional defenses to Driving While Impaired may apply, including:

  1. Non-Impairment
  2. Non-Operation of a Vehicle
  3. Non-Operation on a Street, Public Vehicular Area, or Highway

Necessity and Defense of Others have been found to be valid defenses to Driving While Impaired charges in North Carolina. Proximate Cause may also be challenged, where the State need only prove the Impaired Driving was A Proximate Cause and not the sole or last cause of the fatality.

5. Penalties

Felony Death by Vehicle is a classified as a Class D Felony, which carries a maximum possible period of incarceration of 204 months in the North Carolina Department of Adult Corrections.

All Class D felonies mandate an Active Prison Term, with the notable exception to N.C.G.S. 15A-1340.71 in Felony Death by Vehicle offenses. If the Defendant is a Prior Record Level (PRL) I offender, an INTERMEDIATE SENTENCE is authorized in lieu of the Active term normally mandated pursuant to the Felony Punishment Chart.

6. Criminal Defense for Felony Death by Vehicle Charges

Felony Death If you or a loved one has been accused of “drunk driving” that resulted in a fatality, it’s imperative to immediately seek legal counsel. Assert your Fourth Amendment Right to remain silent. Politely decline to give a statement and ask t immediately speak with an defense lawyer.

Bill Powers is an experienced Charlotte Criminal Defense Lawyer with more than 26 years of practical trial experience handling serious felony charges involving impaired driving. Our North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorneys provide a free, confidential consultation on all criminal charges.

Call now to schedule your complementary consultation. You may also reach Bill Powers by email at Bill@CarolinaAttorneys.com. Our telephone number is 704-342-4357. Our criminal lawyers provide legal representation for serious felony offenses in North Carolina, including the Charlotte-Metro region.

If you’re facing Murder or Manslaughter charges, associated with Driving While Impaired, do not wait. Call NOW.

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