Reckless homicide (commonly referred to as Vehicular Homicide) is where a death results from the reckless driving of a motor vehicle. Under Illinois law, the reckless homicide statute is the same as involuntary manslaughter- but where driving a car is involved. Said another way, reckless homicide is the unintentional killing of a person while driving a vehicle- or although you didn’t mean to kill anyone, your reckless conduct while driving caused a death.
So the question then becomes, what constitutes “recklessness” for purposes of a vehicular homicide? The law defines “reckless” as a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his or her acts are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and that disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the situation. In plain language, recklessness is taking an unneccessary risk that most people would consider likely to harm someone. It is more than mere negligence yet less that wilful and wanton conduct. In a reckless homicide case, although the death of someone was involuntary, the state must prove that the reckless act was voluntary. The state is required to prove the defendant’s mental state. For example, speeding through a construction zone, in the rain, is a conscious choice that the driver has made. Therefore it is an intentional act. The mental state is usually proven by the prosecution through evidence of the particular facts of each case. For example, although evidence that a defendant was speeding is not by itself enough evidence to sustain a conviction for reckless homicide, a combination of speeding and other factors such as drag racing on a suburban, residential street, may be enough evidence to demonstrate a conscious disregard of a substantial risk likely to cause death or great bodily harm to others, and the circumstances are such that a reasonable person would have acted differently in the same situation. Most of us would not drag race in a family oriented neighborhood where there is a substantial likelihood that children would be present.
So in an actual Reckless Homicide prosecution, recklessness is inferred from all of the facts and circumstances -which, by the way, includes evidence of whether the driver was intoxicated. According to Illinois law, the court will automatically presume the state has met its burden of proving recklessness if the driver is found to have a blood alcohol content over the legal limit at the time of the accident. In legal language, the court will find that there is prima facie evidence of a reckless act necessary to sustain a reckless homicide conviction. Prima facie denotes evidence that – unless rebutted – would be sufficient to prove a particular proposition or fact.
Although proof intoxication will always be proof recklessness, you can still be charged with reckless homicide if you are completely sober. Again, it is the total circumstances that can add up to recklessness, (ie., driving sober, but backing up on an exit ramp, or transporting a baby on your lap).
The prosecution does not have to prove that the reckless conduct was the sole and immediate cause of death. They need only prove that the reckless conduct was a contributing cause or that the death was not caused by a wholly independent act. For example, a person can be found guilty of reckless homicide even if another car’s negligence contributed to the collision or if the victim died from an EMT’s negligence at the scene.
If you are charged with reckless homicide or vehicular homicide or aggravated DUI involving death, you need an experienced Chicago DUI lawyer with a proven record of results. Erickson & Oppenheimer, Ltd. is a premier Chicago DUI law firm with over 40 years of experience in winning DUI’s. Erickson & Oppenheimer, Ltd. has won 3 1st Degree Murder jury trials in a row. EricksonandOppenheimer.com