Vehicular Injury and Death by Vehicle Charges

Causing the serious injury or death of another human being through unlawful driving can be a very serious crime in North Carolina. The extent to which you can face penalties for these charges can vary greatly depending on several factors, including your intentions, the kinds of unlawful driving you’re being accused of, past convictions, the manner in which the person had acquired injuries or died, and how you reacted to the situation immediately after it happened. Most cases of criminal charges for death or serious injury by vehicle involve driving while impaired (DWI), though there are exceptions.

As these factors require intense scrutiny of the evidence involved, which in many cases can come down to witness testimony, it is extremely important that you hire a skilled defense attorney immediately. The attorneys at Tarlton | Polk have the experience and skills needed to examine all the evidence and claims against you and devise a legal strategy to get the best possible outcome.

car crash leading to vehicular homicide or serious injury by vehicle

Serious Injury by Vehicle

Causing a serious injury by vehicle is a felony in North Carolina when it involves driving while impaired (DWI). There are two kinds of serious injury by vehicle charges in North Carolina:

  • Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle: A person unintentionally causes serious injury to another person while engaged in the offense of DWI, and their DWI offense was the immediate cause of the serious injury.
  • Aggravated Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle: A person commits the same as above while also having a prior conviction of impaired driving within 7 years of the date of the offense. Their prior impaired driving conviction does not need to involve a case of serious injury by vehicle.

Serious injury is loosely defined as “injuries that can cause someone to experience great pain and suffering.” Generally, the court will consider a variety of factors to decide whether the injury was serious, including:

  • Hospitalization (time, cost, number of procedures, etc.)
  • Loss of blood
  • Time off work due to injuries
  • Pain experienced
  • Potential for long-term or permanent disability

To convict for either offenses, it must be proven that you were impaired, caused serious injury, and that the impairment was the direct reason you caused the injury. All three aspects prosecutors need to prove can be skillfully challenged by an experienced defense attorney.

Death by Vehicle

Vehicular homicide charges in North Carolina that are committed without intent to kill are referred to as “death by vehicle”. Death by vehicle charges fall under a different set of statute in North Carolina from serious injury, with four possible charges:

  • Misdemeanor death by Vehicle: A person commits this crime if they unintentionally caused the death of another person while engaged in driving activity that violated traffic and vehicle regulations, other than impaired driving, and their unlawful activity was the direct cause of death.
  • Felony death by Vehicle: A person unintentionally causes the death of another person while engaged in the offense of DWI, and their DWI offense was the immediate cause of death.
  • Aggravated Felony Death by Vehicle: A person commits the same as above while also having a prior conviction of impaired driving within 7 years of the date of the offense. Their prior impaired driving conviction does not need to involve a case of death by vehicle.
  • Repeat Felony Death by Vehicle Offender: A person had a prior conviction of felony death by vehicle or aggravated felony death by vehicle, while committing another act of felony death by vehicle.

Unlike serious injury, there is not much ambiguity to whether a person is dead or not, which does mean there are less avenues to defend against these charges. However, prosecutors still need to prove that you, in the case of felony death by vehicle, were impaired and that the impairment was the direct cause of death. In misdemeanor cases, they must still prove unlawful driving activity and that such activity was the direct cause of death. An experienced defense attorney can challenge both these aspects of your case very well.

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Penalties for Serious Injury or Death by Vehicle Convictions

Conviction of any of the above crimes will result in serious criminal and administrative penalties, as well as potential devastating civil court and social consequences.

  • Felony Serious Injury by Vehicle: Conviction will result in a Class F felony which has a sentencing range of 10 to 41 months in prison. Your driver’s license can also be revoked for up to four years.
  • Aggravated Serious Injury by Vehicle: Conviction will result in a Class E felony which has a sentencing range of 15 to 63 months in prison. Your driver’s license can also be revoked permanently.
  • Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle: Conviction will result in a class A1 misdemeanor, with a sentencing range of 1 to 150 days and a steep fine. Your driver’s license can be revoked for at least a year.
  • Death by Vehicle: Conviction will result in a Class D felony which has a sentencing range of 38 to 160 months in prison. Your driver’s license can also be revoked permanently.
  • Aggravated Death by Vehicle: Conviction will also result in a Class D felony which has a sentencing range of 64 to 160 months in prison. Your driver’s license can also be revoked permanently.
  • Repeat Death by Vehicle: Conviction will result in a class B2 felony, which has a sentencing range of 94 to 393 months. Your driver’s license can also be permanently revoked if it had not already been revoked due to prior convictions.

In addition to lengthy sentencing and license penalties, you will have a permanent criminal record. This can mean long-term or even lifetime consequences for employment, professional licenses, insurance costs and more. It also subjects you to very steep civil court lawsuits from the victim and/or their family for causing injury or wrongful death.

Potential Additional Criminal Charges

While serious injury or death by vehicle stem from DWI charges, or traffic charges in the case of misdemeanor death by vehicle, there can also be charges that co-occur or stem from serious injury or death by vehicle charges. This includes: 

  • Driving with a revoked or disqualified license: This typically applies to repeat DWI offenders who commit a DWI while their license has been revoked. Penalties can be quite steep, such as a Class 1 misdemeanor charge for driving with a license revoked due to a DWI conviction. This charge can co-occur with any aggravated or repeat death or serious injury by vehicle charges, as those convicted often have their license revoked for a long time or even permanently.
  • Hit and Run: It is a crime to not stop at the scene of a car crash you were involved in that caused any form of damage. If the crash involved another person’s serious death or injury and you ran from the scene, you could face very serious felony charges.

Whether you are facing multiple charges, or hope to have more serious charges reduced, you must contact an experienced defense attorney. Navigating the complex web of criminal traffic and DWI laws, in addition to all other administrative and civil penalties can be extremely difficult. The attorneys at Tarlton | Polk have the experience and skills needed to examine all the evidence and claims against you and devise a legal strategy to get the best possible outcome.

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