Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Sentencing for Fatal DUI Crashes

ABC News reported that former Americna Idol star Caleb Andrew Kennedy was charged with DUI resulting in death.  At age 17, Kennedy faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the charge.  Kennedy’s crash occurred in South Carolina.  What penalties would a driver face if charged with an equivalent offense in Ohio?

Kennedy’s Fatal Crash
Because he was a finalist on American Idol, Kennedy’s incident caught the attention of the national media, including ABC News.  According to the ABC news report, Kennedy drove his truck onto a private driveway and struck a man who lived and worked on the property.  Kennedy told law enforcement officers he took a prescription medication, and his lawyer stated there may have been a bad reaction to the medication.  Kennedy also told deputies he took a deep draw from a vaping device and felt the effects of it while driving.  A later news report indicated police suspect marijuana was involved in the deadly crash.  Kennedy now faces up to 25 years in prison when his case is heard in a South Carolina court.

Fatal DUI (OVI) Crashes in Ohio
In Ohio, a driver in the position of Kennedy would be charged with Aggravated Vehicular Homicide.  ‘Vehicular Homicide’ is the generic term used when a person’s driving causes the death of another person.  Ohio has multiple Vehicular Homicide offenses, found in Ohio Revised Code section 2903.06.  Some of the offenses in that code section are categorized as felonies, and some of them are categorized as misdemeanors.

Aggravated Vehicular Homicide involving alcohol and/or drugs is categorized as a felony.  The prosecution must prove the driver caused the death of another person as a result of committing the crime of Operating a Vehicle under the Influence (OVI).

There are two ways a person can commit the offense of OVI.  First, OVI ‘impaired’ is committed when a person operates a vehicle ‘under the influence’ of alcohol and/or drugs.  ‘Under the influence’ generally means the person’s ability to operate the vehicle was impaired by alcohol and/or drugs.  Second, OVI ‘per se’, is committed when a person operates a vehicle with a prohibited concentration of alcohol and/or drugs in the person’s blood, breath, or urine.

Penalties When Alcohol or Drugs Are Involved
Ohio law provides mandatory penalties for this type of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, which is typically categorized as a second-degree felony.  First, there is a mandatory prison term with a minimum of two years and a maximum of eight years.  The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction can add prison time, up to 50% of the judge’s prison term, for certain misbehavior.  Second, there is a mandatory lifetime driver license suspension which cannot be later reduced or modified.  Third, there is mandatory Post Release Control supervision by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority.  Ohio law also provides other possible penalties, including a fine of up to $15,000, restitution, and probation (‘community control’).  Under certain circumstances, Aggravated Vehicular Homicide is elevated to a first-degree felony.

What if Drugs and Alcohol Are Not Involved?
If a driver causes the death of another person and drugs and alcohol are not involved, the driver may still be charged with a vehicular homicide offense.

  • If the offense is committed by operating a vehicle recklessly, Aggravated Vehicular Homicide is a third-degree felony punishable by a mandatory prison term of one year to five years, a license suspension for three years to life, and a fine of up to $10,000.
  • If the offense is committed by operating a vehicle negligently or by speeding in a construction zone, Vehicular Homicide is a first-degree misdemeanor with a potential sentence which includes a jail term up to six months, a license suspension for one year to five years, and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • If the offense is committed by committing a minor misdemeanor traffic offense, Vehicular Manslaughter is a second-degree misdemeanor with penalties which include a jail term up to three months, a license suspension for six months to three years, and a fine of up to $750.
  • These offenses are elevated to a higher level under certain circumstances.

Fatal Crashes Are Lose-Lose
When a crash results in a fatality, everyone involved loses.  The victim loses his/her life, the victim’s family and friends lose a loved-one, and the defendant loses freedom, a driver license, and, often, psychological peace.

About the Author:  Shawn Dominy is a leading DUI lawyer in Ohio and the author of the Ohio Vehicular Homicide Guide.  He can be reached through his law firm’s website:  Dominy Law Firm.

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Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy

Shawn Dominy is a DUI/OVI lawyer in Columbus, Ohio. He is the former President of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the state delegate to the National College for DUI Defense and a long-time member of the National Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers. Shawn Dominy authored the books 'Ohio DUI/OVI Guide', 'Ohio Vehicular Homicide Guide', and 'Ohio Vehicular Assault Guide' (Rivers Edge Publishing) and wrote a chapter in the book 'Defending Vehicular Homicide Cases' (Aspatore Publishing, 2012). He has several other published articles, and he speaks regularly at seminars teaching other lawyers about DUI/OVI. Shawn was named by SuperLawyers® as one of the top 50 lawyers in Columbus, Ohio, and he is listed as one of the 'Best Lawyers in America'® for DUI Defense. Shawn is a lifelong resident of central Ohio: he graduated from Olentangy High School and earned his bachelor’s degree and juris doctor from The Ohio State University. His office is in Columbus, and he lives in Powell with his wife and daughter. He serves with local community organizations, volunteers regularly at his church, and plays regularly with his German Shepherd. For more information, Shawn’s website is www.dominylaw.com, his blog is www.columbusoviattorneyblog.com,

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