What Is the Minimum Sentence For Homicide By Vehicle in Pennsylvania?

by | Nov 7, 2022

Pennsylvania recognizes no minimum sentence for Homicide By Vehicle convictions. However, laws currently designate maximum sentences of up to seven years. Judges may also impose up to five additional years if the homicide occurred within an active work zone or during specific motor vehicle violations.

You could face up to a total of twelve years imprisonment for Homicide By Vehicle in PA. However, sentencing guidelines indicate a recommendation of up to 120 months, or ten years, even if the courts assign the highest gravity and prior record scores to your case.

In This Article

The Philadelphia vehicular homicide defense lawyers at Shuttleworth Law explain which laws impose sentences for Homicide By Vehicle convictions, how sentencing courts determine penalties, and the possibilities of avoiding criminal liability for a conviction. We conclude by sharing how you can get more information about your legal situation and rights.

Commonwealth-Level Homicide By Vehicle Sentences

Pennsylvania courts penalize crimes according to their classification, grading, and relevant facts. For Homicide By Vehicle matters, Commonwealth statutes classify and grade this type of offense as a felony of the third degree. Judges will use this information when imposing penalties during the sentencing phase if convicted.

Below, we explain what laws give them the discretion to issue sentences, including imprisonment, sentencing enhancements, and fines:

Imprisonment

Three laws directly and generally address prison sentences for Vehicle By Homicide convictions in Pennsylvania:

  • Relevant Law 1. 18 Pa.C.S. § 106: Under Subsection (b)(4), this law allows judges to impose up to seven years imprisonment.
  • Relevant Law 2. 75 Pa.C.S. § 3732: Under subsections (b) (1) and (1.1), judges may impose up to an additional five years for convictions involving a homicide that involved:
    • Active work zones
    • Unlicensed drivers
    • Text-based communications
    • Unlawful emergency vehicle approaches
    • Emergency response area duty violations

As such, sentencing courts have the authority to impose up to twelve years imprisonment for a single Homicide By Vehicle conviction.

Sentencing Enhancements

Following the guidelines from § 3732, Subsection (b) (3) gives sentencing courts authority to impose sentencing enhancements according to 18 Pa.C.S. § § 2154. Sentencing enhancements can increase maximum penalties, fines, add parole periods upon release, and more.

The law is specific about sentencing enhancements when it comes to Vehicle By Homicide convictions. A judge may use these guidelines when imposing appropriate sentences for convictions also involving active work zones, unlicensed drivers, text-based communications, unlawful emergency vehicle approaches, and emergency response area duty violations.

Fines

Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1101, sentencing courts can impose up to $15,000 in fines for a third-degree felony conviction related to  Homicide By Vehicle. The judge does not have to consider your financial abilities when ordering you to pay fines.

Restitution

Victim restitution may be imposed where a personal injury occurred per 18 Pa.C.S. § 1106. This amount will be specified and ordered by sentencing courts regardless of your ability to pay.

Sentencing Courts and Laws Determine Homicide By Vehicle Penalties

PA judges utilize the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing guidelines when imposing sentences. These sentencing guidelines are discretionary and non-binding, meaning a judge has full authority to deviate away from them. However, the sentencing court must give a legal reason for their deviation.

Calculating a Minimum Sentence for Homicide By Vehicle in Pennsylvania

Judges will use two scores to calculate a recommended sentence for the facts of the given vehicular homicide conviction. These scores include an Offense Gravity Score and a Prior Record Score. Courts will then use a sentencing matrix to determine recommended prison sentences.

Here are how they determine both types of scores below:

  • Score 1. Offense Gravity Score (OGS): Your OGS helps judges determine the severity of your actions after a conviction. There are point values assigned to criminal offenses in PA. A higher score indicates a more severe act under 204 Pa.Code § 303.15. Homicide By Vehicle carries an OGS of 6 but could go as high as 10.
  • Score 2. Prior Record Score (PRS): Your PRS tells a judge how many past criminal convictions you have, as well as if you are a repeat violent offender, repeat sexual offender, or repeat felony one and two offender. This score will reflect a number between zero and five. It encompasses past convictions at the misdemeanor and felony levels and may include out-of-state convictions per 204 Pa.Code § 303.4.

The results of both scores will be used to calculate the recommended sentence range. A judge will use the sentencing matrix found under 204 Pa.Code § 303.16 (a). You can find the OGS on the right and the PRS at the top. The intersecting box of both figures will reveal a number range, the recommended sentence (in months).

Example 1: Basic Sentencing

Let’s say that you are convicted of Homicide By Vehicle in Pennsylvania. You were lawfully operating your motor vehicle outside of an active work zone at the time of the incident. Your criminal record reflects zero criminal convictions. Under these circumstances, you would have an OGS of 6 and a PRS of 0.

Using the sentencing matrix, we can determine that Commonwealth laws recommend that judges impose a sentence based on these facts between three and twelve months imprisonment. Again, they could assess a higher or lower amount since they have the authority to order an appropriate sentence outside of these parameters.

Defenses Against a Vehicular Homicide Conviction

You can avoid or mitigate penalties by mounting a successful legal defense. Prosecutors must prove their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that the evidence is so clear a rational person could arrive at the conclusion a crime occurred. However, achieving this objective is not as easy as most people think, especially when the person on trial has a viable legal defense.

Legal defenses commonly used to avoid criminal liability for vehicular homicide convictions may include:

  • Possible Defense 1. Self-defenses: It is rare to see self-defense raised as an issue, but it could happen. Essentially, you are asserting that Homicide By Vehicle was the only option available to protect yourself or another against serious injury, death, rape, or kidnapping.
  • Alibi defenses: Alibi defenses claim that you were somewhere else at the time of the incident. As such, you could not have committed the crime.
  • Possible Defense 2. Civil rights violation defenses: Police and prosecutors make legal, clerical, and procedural errors. These issues amount to civil rights violations, challenging the legality of the prosecutor’s efforts.
  • Possible Defense 3 Causation defenses: This defense allows you to assert that your actions did not result in the alleged victim’s death. Prosecutors must show that you were the direct cause of their losses. Otherwise, they should not be able to get a conviction.

Your case’s facts and circumstances will ultimately determine the proper defense for your situation. If you hire a criminal defense attorney to represent your case, we will evaluate what prosecutors can prove, advise you of your legal options and rights, and execute a strategy that aims to get your charges dismissed, reduced, or won at trial.

Get a Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Opinion

The Philadelphia vehicular homicide defense attorneys at Shuttleworth Law do not want you to pay the price for an unproven crime. Homicide By Vehicle charges are defensible with a viable approach. Call us now to schedule your Free Case Evaluation at (215) 774-1371 or message us online.

Our legal team can meet by secure video conferencing if you prefer. Tell us that you would like to use this option at the time of scheduling your no-cost evaluation.


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