Sometimes a traffic crash involving a fatality is just a tragic accident. In other cases, traffic homicide detectives in Utah will investigate criminal charges for automobile homicide. After the investigation begins, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, LLP in Salt Lake City to find out what you need to do right now to protect yourself against these serious charges.
The Utah Legislature in § 76-5-207 created the Automobile Homicide statute under Title 76 of the Utah Criminal Code in Chapter 5 for Offenses Against the Person. The Automobile Homicide Statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76–5–207, requires proof that a person operated a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another and:
- had sufficient alcohol in his body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of the test;
- was under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that rendered the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle; or
- had a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or greater at the time of operation (often called the "per se" DUI).
The term “negligent” is defined to mean “simple negligence, the failure to exercise that degree of care that reasonable and prudent persons exercise under like or similar circumstances.”
If more than one person suffered bodily injury, serious bodily injury or death as a result of the crash, a separate charge could be brought for each victim even when the injuries arise from the same episode of driving.
*Update: Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed HB 155 into law changing the legal blood alcohol level from 0.08 to 0.05. The Bill will take effect December 30, 2018.
Automobile Homicide for DUI with a “Per Se” BAC Level
Under § 76-5-207(4), the standards for chemical breath analysis as provided by Section 41-6a-515 and the provisions for the admissibility of chemical test results as provided by Section 41-6a-516 apply to determination and proof of blood alcohol content under this section. Additionally, the calculations of blood or breath alcohol concentration under this section shall be made in accordance with Subsection 41-6a-502(1).
Automobile Homicide for Driving under the Influence of “Any Drug.”
Both the Automobile Homicide Statute and the DUI With Serious Injury Statute apply to individuals under the influence of “any drug.” See Utah Code Ann. § 41–6a–502(1)(b); id. § 76–5–207(2)(a)(ii).
Both statutes include controlled substances within the definition of “drug.” Id. § 41–6a–501(1)(c)(i) (2014) (defining “drug” for purposes of the DUI With Serious Injury Statute to include controlled substances); id. § 76–5–207(1)(a)(i) (2012) (defining “drug” for purposes of the Automobile Homicide Statute to include controlled substances); id. § 58–37–2(1)(f) (defining “controlled substance” to include substances listed in Schedules I, II, III, IV, or V of the Utah Controlled Substances Act and the federal Controlled Substances Act).
Neither the Automobile Homicide Statute or the DUI with Serious Bodily Injury statutes distinguishes between drugs used in accordance with a valid prescription and drugs used illegally. Thus, by their plain language, these statutes apply to the use of both prescription and nonprescription controlled substances.
Penalties for Automobile Homicide in Utah
The crime of automobile homicide is charged as a third-degree felony. Alternatively, the crime of automobile homicide may be charged as a second-degree felony if the defendant was criminally negligent or had a previous DUI-related conviction. See Utah Code Ann. § 76–5–207(2)(b), (3).
Automobile Homicide as a Second Degree Felony with a Previous DUI-related Conviction
A conviction for “Automobile Homicide” “is a second-degree felony if it is subsequent to a conviction as defined in Subsection 41-6a-501(2). Convictions under Subsection 41-6a-501(2) would include any conviction arising from a separate episode of driving for a violation of:
- driving under the influence under Section 41-6a-502;
- for an offense committed before July 1, 2008, alcohol, any drug, or a combination of both-related reckless driving under:
- Section 41-6a-512; and
- Section 41-6a-528; or
- enhancement of penalties under:
- this Chapter 6a, Part 5, Driving Under the Influence and Reckless Driving; and
- automobile homicide under Section 76-5-207; and
- expungement under Title 77, Chapter 40, Utah Expungement Act.
Automobile Homicide if the Defendant was “Criminally Negligent.”
Under § 76-5-207(3)(a) Criminal homicide is automobile homicide, a second-degree felony, if the person operates a motor vehicle in a criminally negligent manner causing the death of another and:
- has sufficient alcohol in his body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of.08 grams or greater at the time of the test;
- is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle; or
- has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of.08 grams or greater at the time of operation.
The term “criminally negligent” is defined to mean “criminal negligence as defined in Subsection 76-2-103(4).” Utah Criminal Code Section 76-2-103(4) provides:
With criminal negligence or is criminally negligent with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.
Definitions under the Automobile Homicide Statute
Under 76-5-207, the term “drug” is defined as:
- a controlled substance as defined in Section 58-37-2;
- a drug as defined in Section 58-17b-102; or
- any substance that, when knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly taken into the human body, can impair the ability of a person to safely operate a motor vehicle.
The statute also provides several definitions. The term “motor vehicle" is defined as “any self-propelled vehicle and includes any automobile, truck, van, motorcycle, train, engine, watercraft, or aircraft.
Homicide Automobile Statute in Utah - Visit the website of the Utah State Legislature to learn more about Utah’s criminal code for offenses against the person involving homicide including automobile homicide.
Attorneys for Automobile Homicide Crimes in Utah
Under the Automobile Homicide Statute, a person who, while “under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle,” “operates a motor vehicle in a negligent manner causing the death of another” commits a third-degree felony. Utah Code Ann. § 76–5–207(2)(a). Penalties for a second-degree felony can be imposed if the defendant had a prior DUI-related conviction or if the defendant acted with criminal negligence.
Under § 76-5-207(6), the fact that a person charged with violating this section is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense.
If you were charged with Automobile Homicide Statute, Utah Code Ann. § 76–5–207 as either a third-degree felony or a second-degree felony, then contact an experienced attorney for traffic crimes in Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas in Utah. Our attorneys represent clients on a variety of DUI-related offenses and other serious driving offenses in Utah.
Call us at (801) 532-5297 for a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case.
This article was last updated on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.