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What Criminal Charges Are Possible for Causing a Death While Driving?

Most automobile accidents involve some degree of negligence by one or more of the people involved. Usually, the only legal consequences are claims for money damages. However, in the worst-case scenario, reckless driving can result in death, which in turn can lead to a criminal prosecution. In South Carolina, a driver who causes a fatality may be charged with homicide or manslaughter.

Under South Carolina’s reckless vehicular homicide statute, a person may be prosecuted for driving with reckless disregard for the safety of others and thereby causing death. “Reckless disregard” means the driver chooses to engage in conduct they know is dangerous. The “reckless” standard for criminal culpability is higher than the one for ordinary negligence, which is only that the driver failed to exercise reasonable care. Whether a driver’s actions are considered reckless is most often left to a jury to decide.

Recklessness behind the wheel does not by itself make someone guilty under the statute, even if someone died in the accident. The driver’s conduct must be the proximate cause of the fatality. That is, the victim’s death must be a direct and natural result of the driver’s reckless behavior. The victim need not have died immediately in the crash or shortly afterward. In South Carolina, the driver may be prosecuted if the victim dies from his or her injuries for up to three years after the date of the accident.

Reckless vehicular homicide is a felony. A person who is convicted or who pleads guilty may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined up to $5,000. A conviction or guilty plea also means automatic revocation of the person’s driver’s license for five years, though the driver may petition to have the license reinstated earlier. For more information on criminal and administrative penalties for vehicular homicide, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

A driver who causes a fatality might alternatively be charged with involuntary manslaughter. There is overlap between these two crimes. Both statutes apply the same standard of criminality: reckless disregard for the safety of others. However, a driver who allegedly caused a death is more likely to be charged with reckless vehicular homicide, which carries a 10-year sentence, rather than involuntary manslaughter, which limits the potential prison term to five years.

Columbia attorney Jack B. Swerling is one of the most experienced and highly respected criminal defense lawyers in South Carolina. He vigorously defends every criminal charge brought against his clients. If you have a criminal case pending as a result of a fatal car accident, feel free to contact the office online or call 800-701-0599 for an initial consultation.

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Jack Swerling In The News >>

  • Jack Swerling, Derrick Mobley and Alissa Wilson were successful in having a Judge rule after an extensive hearing, that the defendant was immune from prosecution based on the “Stand Your Ground” law in a murder prosecution. The Judgment was handed down on March 29, 2021.
  • Jack Swerling, Gregory Harris and Alissa Wilson obtained a Not Guilty Verdict in Lexington County on March 3, 2022. An Orthopedic Surgeon was charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of a friend.
  • “When Jack is on my docket, I tell my law clerks, ‘You do not want to miss this. You are seeing one of the greatest trial lawyers in the state’s history.'” -South Carolina Circuit Court Judge
  • Jack was selected to Super Lawyers Magazine Top Ten List for 2019. Each year Super Lawyers recognizes the top lawyers in South Carolina via a selection process involving peer evaluations, independent research and professional achievement. The South Carolina lawyers who receive the highest points during this selection process are further recognized in the South Carolina Super Lawyers Top Ten List.
  • USA v. FRANK*: In a child pornography case, Swerling was successful in obtaining a 22 level variance reducing the defendant’s sentence from 8 years to 6 months.
  • STATE v. BORIS: The defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a case where the defendant was involved in a shoot-out with 3 police officers.
  • STATE v. TYGER: Jack Swerling obtains a not guilty verdict in a criminal sexual conduct case in Beaufort County.
  • Pre Trial Dispositions: STATE v. DWAYNE: Mr. Swerling successfully argued for the dismissal of stalking and unlawful use of telephone charges brought against a prominent businessman in Florence County.
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