Vehicular Homicide/Serious Injury by Vehicle

Hit and Run - DUI Drunk Driving Accident

If convicted of either Vehicular Homicide or Serious Injury by Vehicle by way of Operating While Intoxicated (drunk driving), the judge has NO CHOICE but to send you to prison.  Probation is not an option.

Drunk driving (DUI-OWI) charges are serious in their own right, but things go from bad to worse when someone is fatally injured in a drunk driving accident. If you are charged with vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter, you face serious and substantial mandatory jail time (up to 25 years), heavy fines, losing your driving privileges (up to 6 years) and a class B criminal felony record.

Our Des Moines, Iowa, criminal defense attorneys understand that serious criminal charges call for a serious and aggressive criminal defense. We do not take a “wait and see” attitude and react to what the prosecution does. We believe in being proactive and taking an aggressive approach at mounting the best possible defense.

At Gourley, Rehkemper & Lindholm, we begin our investigation immediately. Our criminal defense attorneys question witnesses, comb through the police report, investigate the accident scene, and challenge any perceived impropriety by the police or the prosecution, or any violation of your constitutional rights.

When alcohol is suspected in a car accident that resulted in death or serious injury to an individual other than the driver, law enforcement is investigating the most serious OWI/DUI related offense. As you can see below, no intent is required. This charge is filed when an individual who is operating while intoxicated accidentally causes the death of another by driving drunk.

Know Your Rights. Exercise Your Rights. Preserve Your Freedom.

What the driver does and says from his/her first interaction with law enforcement may determine whether or not he/she is placed under arrest to eventually spend the next 25 years in an Iowa state prison. The majority of these cases are investigated while the suspect is receiving medical care at the hospital. That being said for the majority of these cases the only evidence of alcohol or drug impairment comes from what the suspect voluntarily gives law enforcement. Please read and understand “Your Rights” before you find yourself in such a predicament.

Iowa Vehicular Homicide Laws

Vehicular homicide is the most severe alcohol-related and driving offense that a person can be charged with in the State of Iowa. There are a number of theories that a person can be prosecuted for under the vehicular homicide statute.

Vehicular Homicide While Intoxicated

The alcohol related offense occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle while intoxicated and it unintentionally results in the death of another. It can be a complete accident but if the driver had an alcohol concentration over .08; had improper drugs in their system; or was under the influence of alcohol or drug or a combination of alcohol and drug; and the action of driving while intoxicated was the proximate cause of the person’s death; the offense has been committed. The actual legal elements are as follows:

  • Unintentionally causes death of another; by
  • Operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

OWI - Drunk Driving

The crime of Operating While Intoxicated can be committed in two ways:

  • by operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drug or combination of alcohol or drug; and/or
  • by operating a motor vehicle while having an alcohol concentration of .08 or more or with “any” amount of controlled substance present in their system.

Class B Felony

A vehicular homicide conviction for operating while intoxicated is a Class B Felony, carrying a mandatory prison term of 25 years. The judge has no choice but to send the person to prison for 25 years. There is no possibility of probation.

Class C Felony

Reckless Driving

A lesser charge of vehicular homicide is also available for situations where the State cannot prove that a person operated while intoxicated. In these situations they can charge a driver in a fatality accident with vehicular homicide by way of reckless driving. In these cases the State is required to prove the defendant unintentionally caused the death of another by operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner; in a way that showed demonstrated a willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. In other words, the person knew and recognized the risk of their driving behavior but did it anyway.

Eluding

It is also a Class C Felony, vehicular homicide offense if an individual causes an accident resulting in death during an attempt to elude law enforcement.

Vehicular Homicide by reckless driving or eluding is a Class C Felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Probation is a possibility in these cases.

Leaving the Scene - Hit and Run

A sentencing enhancement applies to both the Class B and Class C Felony vehicular homicide offenses if the individual is also convicted of leaving the scene of the fatal accident. If a jury determines that the defendant failed to remain on the scene as required by Iowa law, the defendant is required to serve seventy-percent of the prison sentence before being eligible for parole.

Restitution & Loss Of Driving Privileges

In all death related cases, a defendant found guilty of the offense is also required to pay the victim’s estate $150,000.00 in restitution and their driving privileges are barred for 6 years.

Iowa Serious Injury by Vehicle Laws

Serious Injury by Vehicle is the second most severe alcohol-related driving offense that a person can be charged with in the State of Iowa. The theories and what must be proven are the same as Vehicular Homicide with the only difference being that the accident resulted in a serious injury instead of death.

Iowa law defines “serious injury” as bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes permanent disfigurement or extended loss or impairment of the function of any bodily part or organ.

Class D Felony

A Serious Injury by Vehicle conviction for operating while intoxicated is a Class D Felony, carrying a mandatory prison term of 5 years.  The judge has no choice but to send the person to prison for 5 years.  There is no possibility of probation.

Vehicular Homicide and Serious Injury by Vehicle Defenses

All hope is not lost with a charge for vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle, but it is imperative that a person facing these types of serious felony charges immediately consult with their defense lawyers. Time is of the essence in these cases, and evidence is often destroyed before trial. Defenses are discussed at Vehicular Homicide Defenses.

Specialized Defense

Defenses to Vehicular Homicide & Serious Injury by Accident Allegations

Vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle, alcohol related cases are defended very similarly to operating while intoxicated cases; albeit with much more at stake.

Blood Draw Evidence

In addition to traditional defenses to operating while intoxicated cases, vehicular homicide and serious injury by vehicle cases normally involve blood draws or urine collection from a suspect while the suspect is also lying injured in the hospital. This creates a number of issues and potential defenses. Anytime law enforcement wishes to withdraw blood from a person against their will there are a number of legal rights and procedures that must be complied with. Any mistakes by the officers can result in the blood sample or urine sample analysis being declared inadmissible in the criminal prosecution.

Analyzing Blood Draw Samples

Most of the time, it takes time for the samples to be analyzed and results to be reported by the crime lab. Once those reports are obtained by the investigating officer, it also takes a considerable amount of time for the investigating officer or agency to complete their technical collision report setting out their findings. During this time, the suspect may not even know they are being investigated. Unfortunately this can lead to some very important steps in an effective defense being overlooked. Preserving and securing the data and documentation associated with the analyzation of a suspects blood sample is imperative to an effective defense to a Vehicular Homicide by way of Operating While Intoxicated charge. Crucial information related to the legality of the blood draw, sample storage and testing of the sample may be derived from these sources. Furthermore, preservation of the blood sample tested by the State Crime Lab may also be accomplished if immediate action is taken.

Evidence Destroyed

The Iowa crime lab only preserves evidentiary samples for a specified period following testing. If no request to preserve is made, the samples are destroyed but the test results are saved. It is important to get a qualified lawyer involved immediately to ensure that any bodily fluids withdrawn by the government for evidentiary purposes are preserved for independent testing in the event charges are filed. Time is of the essence in this regard.

Causation

The legal theory of “proximate cause” is also a focal point of any competent vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle defense. This is an additional element that the state must prove. The State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspects intoxication was a “cause in fact” of the accident that resulted in the death or serious injury. Fatality and serious injury accidents are an unfortunate reality on our highways. However, for someone to be criminally responsible for an accident their alleged criminal conduct must be the cause of the accident. It is not enough for the State to prove that a person was intoxicated and got into an accident where a person was seriously injured or killed. The prosecution must prove that the action of being intoxicated actually caused the accident to occur. If the accident would have occurred even if the vehicle was being operated or driven by a sober person, the defendant cannot be held criminally responsible. A good example of this would be a vehicle pulling out illegally in front of the defendant’s vehicle. Another situation often arises in prescription drug or narcotics cases where the substance may still be present in the person system but not “active” to a point where it would cause any impairment.

Defense Attorneys In Vehicular Homicide Cases

In all of these types of cases, it is imperative to have a knowledgeable defense attorney when the stakes are the highest. Just as important, the best defense will always involve well-qualified expert witnesses in accident reconstruction, human factors and toxicology.

Representative Vehicular Homicide Cases

A successful defense to Vehicular Homicide and Serious Injury by Vehicle accusations requires specialized knowledge and expertise in the law and science behind alcohol-related accidents. Experience and results matter. While every case is different, an attorney’s knowledge, experience and reputation earned defending these serious accusations can provide a tremendous advantage. Here are a few of GRL Law’s representative cases involving Vehicular Homicide and Serious Injury by Vehicle charges.

State v. Connolly

Cascade, Dubuque County, Iowa. Defendant was facing a total of 105 years in prison as a result of being charged with four counts of Vehicular Homicide by way of Operating While Intoxicated and one count of Serious Injury by Vehicle by way of Operating While Intoxicated. The accusations arose out of a collision that took the lives of four teenagers who were driving and riding in a Gator utility vehicle. All alcohol related accusations were dismissed and Defendant received a 10 year prison sentence under the Reckless Driving alternative of Vehicular Homicide.

State v. Evans

Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa. Defendant was charged with Vehicular Homicide by Operating While Intoxicated and Failure to Stop or Remain at Scene of an Accident Involving a Death. The charges arose out of the death of a 2-year old child who was struck and killed by defendants vehicle in the parking lot of a motel. The State was not able to establish defendant’s intoxication at the time of the accident nor could they establish that he was or would have been aware that the accident even occurred. Consequently, ALL charges were dismissed.

State v. Metcalf

Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa. Defendant was accused of Operating a Motorboat While Intoxicated Causing Death and Involuntary Manslaughter arising out of the death of four of his friends in a boating accident that occurred on the Mississippi. Operating a Motorboat While Intoxicated Causing Death is treated the same under Iowa law as Vehicular Homicide. The State was unable to establish that the defendant was intoxicated at the time of the collision and could further not establish that his operation of the boat was a cause of the accident. Consequently, ALL charges were dismissed outright.

State v. Beckwith

Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Defendant was charged with Serious Injury by Vehicle resulting from a two vehicle head-on collision that occurred in Des Moines. The case proceeded to trial and Defendant was acquitted of the felony Serious Injury by Vehicle charge that would have required a mandatory 5 year prison sentence. Defendant was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence on an Operating While Intoxicated, first offense.

State v. Isleman

Windsor Heights, Polk County, Iowa. Defendant was charged with Vehicular Homicide by way of Operating While Intoxicated as a result of an accident occurring on Interstate 235. The prosecution contended that the decedents who was driving the other vehicle involved in the collision was a result of injuries suffered in the accident. The defense successfully argued that the decedent’s death was not a result of the accident nor injuries sustained in the accident and the jury acquitted the defendant of Vehicular Homicide. Defendant was sentenced to the mandatory minimum sentence on an Operating While Intoxicated, first offense.

State v. LaForge

Des Moines, Polk County, Iowa. Defendant was charged with Vehicular Homicide by way of Operating While Intoxicated and Involuntary Manslaughter following the death of her friend in an accident occurring on an off-ramp of Interstate 80/35. The defense succeeded in excluding defendant’s blood alcohol test result due to a violation of her constitutional rights by the investigating State Troopers. The case proceeded to trial and the jury acquitted the defendant of Vehicular Homicide but convicted her of Involuntary Manslaughter. GRL Law appealed that conviction and it was subsequently overturned by the Iowa Court of a Appeals due to insufficient evidence. Consequently, defendant was cleared of ALL charges against her.