Driving in an irresponsible manner, which causes an accident, leading to the death of another person is considered reckless homicide.
A large number of motor vehicle accidents take place across the state of Illinois due to reckless driving each year. Many of these result in permanent injuries and even death of people. This is why the law enforcing agencies take reckless driving seriously. There is a complete separate section under involuntary manslaughter that deals with reckless homicide.
The purpose of the legislation is to promote responsible behavior among motorists and deter reckless driving. However, there are incidents where a person may get charged with reckless homicide even when they have driven in a responsible and law abiding manner.State Legislation
Reckless homicide is covered under 720 ILCS 5/9-3. The law states that a person commits reckless homicide if he or she unintentionally kills an individual while driving a vehicle recklessly or by jumping a vehicle over an incline.
The charge of reckless homicide may be elevated if there are certain aggravating circumstances. For instance if reckless homicide takes place in a school crossing or construction zone, or the number of people who die in a reckless homicide is two or more, the charges can be elevated with a more severe punishment.Punishments
Under most circumstances, reckless homicide is a Class 3 felony punishable by 2 – 5 years in prison.
In cases involving reckless homicide in which the offense is committed upon a public thoroughfare where children cross and a school crossing guard is performing official duty, the offense can be charged as a Class 2 felony. A Class 2 felony is punishable by 3 – 7 years in prison.
The status of the victim is also considered by the courts. In a case where the victim of a reckless homicide is a peace officer who is killed in the line of duty, the charges can be elevated to a Class 2 felony.
The charge can also be elevated to a Class 2 felony if the victim is a family or household member of the accused.
Reckless homicide in which the defendant causes the deaths of two or more persons, the defendant shall be sentence to 6 – 28 years in prison.Considerations
Most accidents that result in injury are caused by negligence rather than intentional bad driving. The person who is responsible for the accident is considered at fault and an investigation usually takes place before the state charges anyone with the responsibility of the accident.
Accidents that only result in injury can be charged under reckless conduct which is a misdemeanor. The victim has the remedy of civil lawsuit available to claim damages and they usually press charges which is why the state gives it a lower priority.
Reckless homicide is a more serious offense and the state authorities are more active in pursuing a conviction against the accused.Examples and Court Cases
In a recent case, a truck driver from Colorado was charged with a number of felony counts including reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving.
Mohamad Y Jama, 54, of Greeley was charged after a thorough investigation led by the Illinois State Police.
The police claim that Jama was driving too fast in a construction zone on the Interstate when his tractor-trailer crashed into other vehicles that had slowed down.
The crash caused the deaths of four people and caused injuries to dozens of other people. Jama has been charged with four separate counts of reckless homicide, one for each of the victims. He is also charged with eight counts of aggravated reckless driving for having caused “great bodily harm” to those who were injured.
In a 2017 case a man was able to get a relatively better deal by taking a plea bargain that was offered by the prosecution.
Christopher Roman, 34, had pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving instead of a charge of reckless homicide. In August 2015, his vehicle struck another vehicle which crashed into a pole causing the deaths of two people.
The man had originally been charged with reckless homicide by the prosecution but the defense was able to negotiate a much softer deal with the State Office.
Romano was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years’ probation on the charge of reckless driving.
In another case, a man from the Lake County Court pleaded not guilty to two separate charges of reckless homicide.
Nicholas Zaworski of Park City was charged with multiple counts of allegedly speeding in a construction zone where he struck Matthew Paulson who was working on the site.
The Attorney’s Office claims that Zaworski had fallen asleep on the wheel while speeding through the area. His vehicle veered off the road and onto the shoulder area where it struck Paulson. The workman was pushed into his truck and later pronounced dead.
Zaworkski’s vehicle flipped after the crash and he had to be taken to a medical center where he was treated and later released.Possible Legal Defenses
People charged with reckless homicide have a number of defenses available. The question of responsibility always comes up in reckless homicide cases.
The initial knee-jerk reaction is to blame the person who suffered the least injury as reckless while the person with the most grievous injury or death is believed to be the victim. This isn’t necessarily the case in every circumstance however.
Consider the case of Zaworski presented above where the prosecution claims that the driver allegedly fell asleep and veered into a construction worker causing his death through reckless homicide.
The defendant has claimed ‘not guilty’ to the charges and the burden would be on the prosecution to show that he fell asleep or drove in a reckless manner. The prosecution found no trace of alcohol or intoxicants in the defendant’s blood.
Without going into the specific circumstances of the case, it seems likely that Zaworski’s defense team would be able to question where Paulson was working on the road at the time of the accident. If it can be shown that there wasn’t enough of a warning sign for drivers to beware of work in progress, or if Paulson was working in the middle of the road, it could raise the question of responsibility.
The best defense in reckless homicide cases is to argue that the defendant did not act recklessly. While it may not necessarily get the case dismissed, it can significantly get the penalty reduced in most cases where a defendant can show that he or she acted responsibly.