Pennsylvania Truck Owner Pleads Guilty to Homicide by Vehicle – Why was a non-driver/owner charged with a homicide in Montgomery County, PA?
Recently, the owner of a poorly maintained dump truck pled guilty to homicide by vehicle even though, he himself wasn’t driving the vehicle at the time it fatally struck a victim in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. The prosecutor’s (assistant district attorney) theory of the case was that this man caused the death based on his gross negligence.
While traffic offenses in Pennsylvania are often summary or misdemeanor crimes, there are a number which are felony offenses, specifically those involving death or personal injury. In most situations a key element of any criminal offense involving the death or seriously injured another is intent to cause that death or serious injury.
In Pennsylvania, however, the charge of homicide by vehicle and leaving the scene of accident involving death do not require the Commonwealth to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt with regards to intent to cause death.
What is homicide by vehicle in Pennsylvania?
Homicide by vehicle in Pennsylvania under Title 75 §3732 is committed when a person acts with recklessness or gross negligence and causes the death of another while engaged in a violation of any law or municipal ordinance (speeding, reckless driving). This would include a traffic offense. It is important to keep in mind, however, that if the related offense is a DUI under §3802, it is a separate criminal charge (Title 75 §3735(a)). The theory in this case was that the truck owner failed to have the vehicle inspected and to have it registered.
Under §3732(a), a person is guilty of a crime of a felony of the third degree, but there is no mandatory minimum associated with homicide by vehicle, unlike homicide by vehicle while DUI under an alternative section. If convicted of this charge, a person may be sentenced to an additional five (5) years if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the offense occurred at an active work zone. The sentencing enhancement may also be applied if at the time of the incident the driver was not proper licensed under §1501, operating the car with a suspended license under §1543, texting while driving under §3316, or failed to properly act in the presence of an emergency vehicle under §3325. If the prosecution seeks the sentencing enhancement, it must indicate the intent to do so in the indictment or under the bills of information.
What is leaving the scene of accident involving death?
Leaving the scene of an accident involving death, unlike homicide by vehicle, is a felony of the second degree (Title 75 §3742). This is a more serious offense as it carries with it a mandatory minimum three (3) year State prison sentence. To prove this charge, the Commonwealth must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver knew or should have known that he or she committed an act which resulted in the death of another and left the scene of the accident. If leaving the scene of an accident does not involve death or serious bodily injury, it is a felony of the third degree. If there is no death or serious bodily injury as the result of leaving the scene of the accident, it is a misdemeanor of the first degree (§3743).
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Crimes in Pennsylvania
A misdemeanor is a far less serious offense then a felony offense in Pennsylvania. Misdemeanors carry with them a presumption of probation or possible county incarceration in most situation, while felonies carry with them a presumption of State prison.
Pennsylvania does not maintain many mandatory minimum sentencing laws, but in the case of a homicide, there are many mandatory minimum sentences associated with these charges.
If you’re charged with homicide by vehicle or recklessly causing the death of a another, it is important that your attorney evaluate all possible scenarios, including non-trial dispositions in the form of a negotiated guilty plea or an open plea. If your attorney is not able to negotiate the proper plea offer, the only alternative is to proceed to trial.
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