Is there such a thing as ‘vehicular manslaughter’?

In Western Australia, the driver of a vehicle is not liable for the death of the opposing driver, driving and causing death can be categorised into Subsection 59BA of the Road Traffic Act 1974 Careless or Dangerous Driving Causing Death. Being prosecuted for either of these can result in license suspension, fine, or even jail time. So how long can you go to jail for driving and causing death? What are the consequences?

The answer is more complex than a standard amount of time and depends on the circumstances of the case.

First, what is manslaughter?

In Western Australia, the Criminal Code Compilation Act 1913 (henceforth Criminal Code) articulates the crimes of murder and manslaughter, as well as the mandatory minimum sentences that are to be applied if someone is found guilty.

Under section 280 of the Criminal Code, manslaughter occurs when a person unlawfully kills another person under such circumstances as not to constitute murder. There are essentially 3 elements that come into play when manslaughter is concerned:

  1. The accused caused the death;
  2. The accused did not intend to kill the victim (the offence did not constitute wilful murder);
  3. The killing was not authorised by law.

Voluntary vs Involuntary manslaughter 

Having established that manslaughter is when someone is killed – however without a motive such that it would constitute murder, it’s time to look at the different types of manslaughter. Two types of manslaughter exist that aim to categorise different activities that lead to manslaughter – these are voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

1. Voluntary manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when someone is killed by an offender who is engaged in an unlawful act or a dangerous act at the time, for example, a provocation or while engaging in self defence. Usually in Western Australia, one of the ways the crime of murder can be downgraded to this category of voluntary manslaughter is when the accused was engaged in defence from a provocation. 

2. Involuntary manslaughter  

Involuntary manslaughter describes a slightly different scenario where someone is killed, however, there was no motive whatsoever to kill or cause serious injury that would be likely to endanger life. Involuntary manslaughter could be due to a deliberate and sometimes completely lawful act, or criminal negligence – where deaths are caused due to gross negligence.

So what exactly is vehicular manslaughter? 

The term ‘vehicular manslaughter’ is not a conventional term. Subsection 59BA of the Road Traffic Act 1974 (the Act) defines it as careless driving causing death, grievous bodily harm or bodily harm. According to this subsection, an offence is committed when an incident occasioning the death of, or grievous bodily harm or bodily harm to, another person and the driver was, at the time of the incident, driving the motor vehicle without due care and attention. 

How long can you go to jail for manslaughter?

Western Australia’s sentencing laws have been updated in 2011 to reflect a harsher maximum sentence when it comes to vehicular manslaughter charges. According to the amended Criminal Code, if a person unlawfully kills another person under such circumstances as not to constitute murder, the person is guilty of manslaughter and is liable to imprisonment for life. 

How long can you go to jail for vehicular manslaughter?

The supreme court can sentence someone based on the severity of the crime – and depending on the circumstances, this could range from 10 to 20 years. Regardless of the jail time, courts will disqualify the person from holding a driver’s license for a minimum period of 2 years. 

According to subsection 3 of the Act, anyone who commits an offence as described above in aggravated circumstances the penalty shall be as follows:

  • 20 years, if the person has caused the death of another person; or
  • 14 years, if the person has caused grievous bodily harm to another person.

In any other cases (where aggravation is not relevant) the sentence may be:

  • 10 years prison sentence, if the person has caused the death of another person; or
  • 7 years, if the person has caused grievous bodily harm to another person. 

Penalty for careless driving causing death

Section 59BA of the Act also outlines the penalties faced when committing vehicular manslaughter. If you are found guilty of this crime, you could face:

  • imprisonment for 3 years; or 
  • a fine of 720 PU (Penalty Units);
  • (in any event) minimum driver’s license disqualification of 3 months

Get legal advice from a criminal lawyer perth 

If you’ve been involved in a serious accident involving vehicular manslaughter, vehicular homicide, or even grievous bodily harm, it’s good to know where you stand. As a driver, you may be facing serious consequences so it’s important you get qualified legal assistance as soon as possible. Here at WN Legal, our dedicated team of criminal defence lawyers Perth are here to help. Give us a call today and organise a free 30 minute consultation.