Phoenix, Ariz., vehicular manslaughter charges for head-on fatal crash

In the wee hours of an October 2013 Sunday, a 55-year-old New York woman in Phoenix for a conference was on her way to the airport in the backseat of an SUV provided by her hotel's shuttle service. The vehicle was hit head on by a 27-year-old driver from Phoenix going the wrong way on the 65-mph highway in a pickup.

The woman was not wearing a seatbelt and died from her injuries. Both the victim's driver and the other driver sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

The driver who was going the wrong way has been charged with manslaughter and second-degree homicide for the woman's death. According to the Post-Standard, Arizona authorities are investigating whether the defendant was driving under the influence at the time.

News articles report that the defendant had been arrested, and in some of the incidents convicted of crimes, several times since 2006, including three DUI arrests in California, and various traffic and drug charges.

When he was 23, he allegedly made dangerous explosives and grew marijuana in his mother's California home, a licensed day care. He pleaded guilty in that incident and was sentenced to four years' incarceration, but was paroled after serving less than three years.

Arizona charges

The defendant faces serious Arizona criminal charges in the alleged vehicular homicide. When death of another person or of an unborn child results from operation of a motor vehicle with a sufficient level of criminal culpability, Arizona law provides that the driver can be charged with second degree murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide.

What determines which of the three crimes was committed depends on the defendant's mental state:

  • Second degree murder without premeditation: intentionally causing death; causing death knowing that such conduct would cause serious injury or death; or causing death while "manifesting extreme indifference to human life ... recklessly," creating the "grave risk of death." (Class 1 felony).
  • Manslaughter: recklessly causing death; committing second degree murder after a "sudden quarrel or heat of passion resulting from adequate provocation by the victim"; aiding suicide; committing second degree murder with extreme indifference to human life under coercion by force or threat of force on the defendant or another person; or "knowingly or recklessly causing the death of a unborn child" by harming its mother. (Class 2 felony).
  • Negligent homicide: causing the death of another with "criminal negligence." (Class 4 felony).

Sentencing

Any of the three vehicular homicide crimes can bring prison terms. Arizona sentencing law is complicated, but generally, prison time for a felony conviction may be longer if there are aggravating factors and shorter if there are mitigating factors. Examples of aggravating factors:

  • If the crime caused death and the victim's immediate family experiences "physical, emotional or financial harm."
  • Other felony convictions in the previous decade.
  • For vehicular homicide, an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more.
  • And more.

In addition, the lower the felony number (Class 1 is lower than Class 5) the more serious the sentence. Sentences may be longer for "dangerous offenders," repeat offenders and for felonies against children; and certain more serious offenses may result in the death penalty, life in prison, or limits on probation or sentence suspension.

Seek experienced criminal defense

If you are investigated for or charged with vehicular homicide in Arizona, speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and launch your own investigation. Your Arizona lawyer can help determine whether to try to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution or proceed to fight the matter at trial.