Vehicular Homicide: A Washington State Sentencing Guide

A conviction of vehicular homicide in Washington State may result in the court sentencing someone to pay fines and spend time behind bars. The penalties they face for this charge depend on things like the circumstances, the severity of the crime, and their offender score. Someone can receive up to a lifetime prison sentence for a vehicular homicide conviction (a Class A felony). But in some cases, the accused may face a year in jail. The person may also have to pay a fine of up to $50,000 or more and have their license taken away. Additionally, the accused might face civil consequences (e.g., wrongful death claims) even if they aren’t convicted of the crime. 

At Veitch Ault Defense, we champion the rights of those accused of serious traffic charges, like vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, reckless driving, and driving while intoxicated. Our King County DUI attorney understands what’s at stake in these cases and provides timely legal advocacy for his clients. We help people prepare for trial by locating evidence that works in their favor. We also review things like proposed plea bargains to help people determine if agreeing to one is in their best interest. 

The Basics of Vehicular Homicide and Washington State Sentencing

Vehicular homicide is a serious charge that can carry stiff penalties. The consequences of committing this crime depend on the unique circumstances and the applicable law. The court uses the sentencing guidelines to decide what penalty to impose. The maximum sentence is a lifetime in prison, but sometimes the sentence is as little as a year. The accused may also have to pay court-ordered fines, and the government may take their license taken away. 

What Is Vehicular Homicide?

Vehicular homicide is when someone dies because of a car crash, and their death occurs within three years after the accident. But to count as vehicular homicide under Washington law, other factors must be present, such as:

  • The accused was intoxicated at the time of the accident; 
  • The accused was recklessly driving when they caused the crash; or 
  • The accused drove the vehicle in a way that disregards the well-being of others. 

The prosecution also needs to prove a connection between the crash and the victim’s death. In other words, the cause of death needs to relate to the victim’s accident-related injuries. A vehicular homicide conviction is a Class A felony. 

What Are the Penalties for Vehicular Homicide?

Under Washington law, the penalties for a vehicular homicide conviction may include up to a lifetime in prison and fines of up to $50,000 or more. Additionally, the person may also lose their license. The accused’s sentence depends on things like the seriousness of the offense. Likewise, the person’s prior record may impact the penalties they face. For example, Washington law adds two years to a DUI-related vehicular homicide sentence for every eligible previous alcohol-related charge (e.g., physical possession or DUI) the person has. 

What Sentencing Guidelines Does the Court Use for Vehicular Homicide?

Washington law uses a sentencing grid to sentence people for crimes they commit. Using this grid, the court uses the seriousness of the crime and the person’s offender score to determine the possible sentencing range. Vehicular homicide is a Level XI crime if it involves driving while intoxicated or reckless driving. In contrast, vehicular homicide based on a disregard for other’s safety is a Level VII crime. 

The court calculates the offender’s score based on factors such as their prior record and anything that works in their favor. The higher the rating of the crime and the person’s score, the more severe the penalties are likely to be. In contrast, a lower crime rating and offender score might result in a lower sentence. 

What Are the Minimum and Maximum Penalties for Vehicular Homicide?

The statutory maximum for a vehicular homicide conviction is a lifetime in prison. Additionally, the fines can range from $0 to $50,000 or more. The minimum penalty depends on the circumstances. 

The court uses Washington’s sentencing guidelines to choose an appropriate penalty. For example, vehicular homicide due to a DUI or reckless driving is a Level XI seriousness. Depending on the person’s score and other factors, the sentence they receive might range from 7 and a half years to over 20 years. Those convicted of vehicular homicide because of drunk driving may face an extra penalty for alcohol-related offenses on their record. For each qualifying conviction, the court may add two years (or more) to their vehicular homicide sentence. 

Vehicular homicide convictions based on dangerous driving may carry a lower sentence. Because this crime is a Level VII, someone convicted of an offense in this category may face between 18 months and 8 and a half years in prison. 

Because the penalties can be severe, people should go into their vehicular homicide cases as prepared as possible. In most situations, this means consulting a seasoned Washington DUI attorney who can help defend them against the charges. The lawyer can locate evidence that works in the accused’s favor. If possible, they may also take steps to get the charges reduced or dismissed. 

What Are the Aggravating and Mitigating Factors in Vehicular Homicide Sentencing?

Sometimes, the court uses aggravating and mitigating factors to decide what sentence makes sense. Aggravating factors are things that might lead to a more severe sentence. In contrast, mitigating factors work in favor of a lower penalty. Under Washington law, some of the aggravating circumstances might include:

  • The accused showed a lack of regret for committing the crime, 
  • The offense had a foreseeable impact on others (such as the victim’s family), 
  • The accused committed the offense after getting out of prison, and
  • The victim was being a good samaritan at the time of the incident. 

Factors that might weigh in the accused’s favor include if they didn’t voluntarily commit the crime. An example of this might be if someone pressured them into driving or they felt they had no choice (e.g., an emergency). Additionally, the court may be more likely to impose a lighter sentence if the accused shows that they understand the gravity of the crime. Furthermore, if they tried to compensate the victim for their losses shortly after the accident, the court may see this as working in their favor. 

Understanding Restitution and Compensation in Vehicular Homicide Cases

Sometimes, Washington law allows the judge to order the accused to pay money to the victim (or their estate). This concept is called restitution. How much the person pays represents the amount they gained or the victim lost because of the crime. 

The victim’s family may also seek compensation in a civil lawsuit (such as a wrongful death case). If that happens, the accused may have to pay legal damages on top of the fines or restitution they are responsible for in the criminal case. The civil lawsuit and the criminal charges are separate from each other. In other words, someone can be civilly liable for something even though they don’t receive a criminal conviction for it. 

Veitch Ault Defense: Vehicular Homicide Defense Attorneys Serving Washington State

If you’re facing a vehicular homicide charge, you likely have many questions. You may feel concerned about what this means for you going forward and what you can do to fight the charges. One way to equip yourself for the battle ahead is to talk to a seasoned criminal defense attorney. 

Robert Ault and the Veitch Ault Defense team dedicate their time and resources to defending the rights of the accused. Rob’s impressive background includes passing the National College of DUI Defense’s Summer Session held at Harvard Law School. Additionally, he is one of a select number of Washington attorneys who have completed the Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement course by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Commission. 

If you’re facing a vehicular homicide charge in Washington State, call us at 425-312-6753 or contact us today to schedule a consultation. 


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