When you are involved in a motor vehicle collision with a pedestrian or another vehicle that causes the death of the pedestrian, occupant in the other car or passenger in your motor vehicle, you may face life-altering consequences like civil liability, intense emotions and most disturbingly criminal liability. When a motorist causes a fatality while operating a motor vehicle, this may result in a criminal charge of reckless homicide being filed in Cook County or elsewhere in Illinois where the car crash occurred. Reckless homicide like the name implies does not require that a person have any desire or intent to kill another person for the prosecutor to obtain a conviction. The prosecutor must establish that the accused was “reckless,” which means that one’s conduct evidenced a disregard for the safety of others.
Any driver of a vehicle that causes the death of another individual while intoxicated will be presumed to be engaged in reckless conduct. While many other jurisdictions charge this offense as involuntary manslaughter, it falls under the rubric of reckless homicide under Illinois law. This presumption may exist even if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is less than .08 percent if your mental or physical ability to drive was impaired. You may have engaged in unsafe driving that may be attributed to alcohol or drug impaired driving, such as drifting into the wrong lane, driving with your lights off at night, traveling in the wrong direction on the highway or similar unsafe driving behavior or traffic violation. These types of evidence may be used by the prosecutor to establish that your actual ability to control the vehicle was impaired even if your BAC is below the .08 legal threshold for DUI in Illinois.Penalties and Imprisonment for Reckless Homicide in Illinois
If you have been arrested and/or charged with reckless homicide in Chicago, rather than speak to the police, you should assert your right to have an attorney present before answering any questions. Reckless homicide constitutes a very serious criminal offense under Illinois law, which is considered a Class 3 Felony. Anyone convicted of reckless homicide in Cook County or the surrounding areas of Illinois may face a potential state prison term of two to five years.
The offense may even be charged as a Class 2 Felony if certain aggravating factors exist, which may result in exposure to a maximum term of incarceration up to 28 years. A reckless homicide conviction will also typically result in a loss of your driver’s license and thousands of dollars in fines. Generally, a drunken driver that causes a fatality while operating a motor vehicle will be charged with a Class 2 Felony.Effective Defense Strategies to Reckless Homicide in Chicago
While reckless homicide is a serious criminal offense, there are many defenses that may effectively be employed by Cook County Reckless Homicide Attorney David L. Freidberg, which include but are not limited to many of the defenses available in a driving under the influence (DUI) prosecution. The officer may base his conclusions that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the fatal accident on a range of evidence that includes:
- Pattern of impaired driving prior to and/or during the accident
- Direct observation of your demeanor, coordination and physical condition after the collision
- Performance on field sobriety tests (FSTs)
- Results of chemical testing of breath, blood or urine
- Testimony of other vehicle occupants or witnesses to the collision
- Accident reconstruction evidence like skid marks, estimated speed, etc.
While this may sound like persuasive evidence, Mr. Freidberg has extensive experience discrediting this type of evidence, which has been built representing hundreds of people accused of serious crimes during his more than 17 year legal career. The weakness of these types of evidence is outlined below:
- Pattern of Erratic Driving: There are many reasons that people drive unsafely or violate traffic laws that have nothing to do with an impairing substance. While you may still be negligent if you cause an accident because you run a red light while looking down to adjust the radio or trying to clean up a drink that spilled in your lap, this type of “ordinary negligence” may not constitute a conscious disregard for the safety of others that is required for criminal liability to attach.
- Officer Observations and FSTs: It should surprise no one that you exhibit a lack of coordination, unsteadiness of gait, slurred speech, mental confusion and similar signs of mental or physical impairment when you are involved in a significant motor vehicle collision. Even if you think you are not seriously injured, you may have suffered a traumatic brain injury that has yet to fully manifest symptoms. The stress, pain and shock associated with being involved in a traffic collision makes it highly predictable that you may appear “impaired” or may not perform well on FSTs.
- Chemical BAC Testing: Although the full range of legal and factual grounds for challenging BAC test results is beyond the scope of this discussion, these chemical tests are far from infallible indicators of BAC level. There are strict procedural requirements for how the tests are conducted as well as how the samples are extracted, stored and transported. Further, the testing equipment must be properly maintained and functioning. Mr. Freidberg carefully investigates the circumstances surrounding the administration and evaluation of chemical testing so that he can expose errors that may justify having the test results excluded from the case. Our Chicago reckless homicide criminal defense firm works closely with blood alcohol testing experts and toxicologists to present alternate theories for an incriminating BAC test result.
Another important and effective defense is to establish that your alcohol or drug impaired driving was not the proximate cause of the car accident. We carefully analyze law enforcement reports, witness interviews, video footage, physical damage to the vehicles, precise nature of the injuries, position of the vehicles, skid marks and other evidence to identify alternate theories for the cause of the collision. If another driver or third party is at-fault for causing the accident, you cannot be convicted of reckless homicide because you did not cause the accident and resulting death.
While there are many defense strategies that may get a criminal charge of reckless homicide reduced or result in a dismissal or acquittal, it is important to seek prompt legal representation from an experienced Cook County DUI fatal accident criminal defense attorney. The underlying DUI allegation and circumstances surrounding the collision must be promptly investigated before critical evidence is lost or witnesses disappear. If we can convince the prosecutor that he or she cannot prove the underlying DUI charge, we may be able to get the reckless homicide charge substantially reduced because your behavior did not constitute the necessary recklessness to justify criminal culpability. Our Illinois homicide defense law firm offers a confidential consultation so that we can explain your legal rights and potential defenses. We invite you to contact us at 312-560-7100 or email us to learn how we can begin fighting for you.