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North Carolina Criminal Law 20-141.4(a2): Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle

1. Definition and Elements of the Crime

Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle Any fatality involving a motor vehicle offense is a serious matter. Even in instances where it may be deemed an “accident,” there may be a substantial period of license revocation and a criminal record.

One of the more consequential motor vehicle offenses that qualifies as a criminal offense can be found in North Carolina Criminal Law 20-141.4(a2), which imposes substantial penalties for Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle.

Death by Vehicle, as a misdemeanor offense, involves the unintentional killing of another human being during the operation of a motor vehicle. The fatality is the proximate cause of a violation of a traffic law, local ordinance, moving violation or any law in North Carolina that governs the safe operation of a motor vehicle.

The State must prove, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, the following prima facie elements:

1. Defendant Violated a Law in North Carolina Regarding Motor Vehicle Operation
  1. Defendant violated a law in North Carolina regarding motor vehicle operation
    1. Any Local Ordinance
    2. Any State Law
    3. Applying to the use or operation of a vehicle or
    4. Regulation of Traffic
  2. Defendant’s violation of the law was A Proximate Cause in the death of another human being.

The essential elements of Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle may be found in the North Carolina Pattern Jury Instruction 206.58.

A Proximate Cause differs from the civil standard of “The Proximate Cause.” A proximate cause is one that is real, without which the fatality would not have resulted.

The act committed in violation of the law is not required to be the sole or only cause of the fatality. Neither does the law require such causality to the last or nearest cause of death.

A Proximate Cause is deemed sufficient if it occurred, acting together with another cause and taking place at the same time, thereby resulting in the death of another human. A reasonable prudent and careful person could have foreseen the illegal act to produce a similar injury, injurious result, or damage.

Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle is not a “lesser included” offense of Felony Death by Motor Vehicle, which is a Homicide . Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle specifically excludes, by statute, Impaired Driving and Impaired Driving a Commercial Vehicle.

As such, a homicide involving Impaired Driving would be more properly charged and indicted as Felony Death by Vehicle, Involuntary Manslaughter and/or Murder.

Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle may in certain circumstances be deemed a lesser included offense of Involuntary Manslaughter, a felony offense in North Carolina.

In the event a Grand Jury Indictment charges more than one violation of a traffic law and/or law in the North Carolina regarding the safe operation of a vehicle, the Court must “instruct” the Jury on all such alleged offenses.

A Proximate Cause may include some, all, or any part of such offenses in the determination of criminal culpability.

In arguments to the jury, where the conviction of Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle may result in the revocation of a motor vehicle driver license, both the State and the Defendant may advise the jury of the consequences of a conviction.

2. Related Offenses

Similar or related offenses may include:

  1. Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle
  2. Aggravated Serious Injury by Vehicle
  3. Involuntary Manslaughter
  4. Second Degree Murder
  5. Reckless Driving
  6. Exceeding the Posted Speed Limit
  7. Following Too Closely
  8. Lane Violation
  9. Unsafe Movement
3. Examples
  1. Defendant is a Class A licensee and operates a semi-truck weighing more than 26,001 pounds. While traveling on I-85 in Charlotte, Defendant’s front tire bursts. Investigation by a forensic crash expert indicates the tire was bald and Defendant failed to properly inspect the vehicle prior to operation of the commercial vehicle.

    As a result of the blown tire, Defendant’s 18-wheeler crosses the center line and collides with a passenger vehicle head on, instantly killing one person. Defendant failed to comply with a North Carolina law involving the safe operation of a motor vehicle and therefore may be indicted and prosecuted for Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle.

  2. Defendant is unable to stop and crashes into the rear of another vehicle due to “tailgating.” Both the Defendant and the other vehicle were speeding 80 m.p.h. on Interstate 77. Defendant’s vehicle swerves wildly into the center median, striking the center lane divider and flipping over. Defendant’s rear seat passenger is killed instantly. Defendant may be prosecuted for Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle.

  3. The 6-month-old child of the Defendant is improperly secured in a child-seat in the rear passenger area of the Defendant’s motor vehicle. A “drunk driver” crosses into Defendant’s lane of travel, killing the child and seriously injuring the Defendant.

    The Defendant failed to properly secure the child and therefore may be charged with Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. The drunk driver may prosecuted for Felony Death by Vehicle, Involuntary Manslaughter, and possibly Second Degree Murder.

    The drunk driver Defendant cannot be prosecuted for Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle in that Impaired Driving is specifically excluded from consideration and is not a “lesser included” offense of Felony Death by Vehicle.

4. Defenses to Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle

If the defendant did not cause the wreck that resulted in the death of another person, he or she would not be guilty of violating North Carolina Criminal Law 2-141.4(a2) Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. As such, challenging the proximate cause of the fatality would serve as a valid defense.

Even minor violations of infractions and motor vehicle laws instituted to protect safe driving (operation of a motor vehicle) may serve as a contributing cause to the wreck and therefore injury and/or death. As such, careful consideration must be given to the contributing factors to the collision and resulting fatality.

5. Penalties

Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle is classified as a Class A1 Misdemeanor in North Carolina. The maximum period of incarceration is 150 days in the Department of Adult Corrections.

The Fifth Amendment (Double Jeopardy) being placed in jeopardy for Death by Vehicle (felony or misdemeanor) and Manslaughter arising out of the same fatality. No defendant may be prosecuted, upon a charge and indictment of manslaughter, for death by vehicle arising out of the same death.

NCDMV is authorized to revoke the driver license, for a period of 12 months, of anyone convicted of Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle. There is no Limited Privilege authorized under Chapter 20 in such instances.

There also may be substantial liability for civil claims involving allegations of negligence, gross negligence, and the wrongful death of another.

6. Criminal Defense for Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle

Death by Vehicle Before giving a statement or cooperating with a vehicular homicide investigation, politely request to speak with a lawyer. Exercise your Fifth Amendment Right to remain silent.

The Powers Law Firm PA provides legal assistance in the Charlotte-Metro region and throughout North Carolina for death by vehicle cases, vehicular homicide, murder, manslaughter, and serious DWI charges.

It’s imperative you consult with an experienced Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney immediately. Bill Powers has more than 26 years of courtroom experience handling felony and misdemeanor criminal charges including, but not limited to Second Degree Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter, Felony Death by Vehicle, Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle, and Driving While Impaired.

For more information and to schedule your free consultation with North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney Bill Powers, call 704-342-4357. You may also email Mr. Powers at Bill@CarolinaAtorneys.com

Legal consultations with our defense team are completely confidential and secret.

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