Homicide by Vehicle Charge for Bicycle Accident?
Posted in General on January 12, 2015
I have represented a few Penn State students over the years that were surprised to discover that they could receive State College DUI charges for riding a bicycle while under the influence of alcohol or while impaired by drugs. The reason that such charges can be filed is because Pennsylvania law has a broad definition of the word “vehicle.” A “vehicle” in Pennsylvania generally includes any device upon which any person may be transported. The failure to operate a “vehicle” in accordance with the Pennsylvania vehicle code can result in the filing of criminal charges, including DUI and Homicide by Vehicle.
Pennsylvania Homicide by Vehicle Charge
In Pennsylvania, the Homicide by Vehicle charge is defined at 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3732 and provides that a “person who recklessly or with gross negligence causes the death of another person while engaged in the violation of any law of this Commonwealth or municipal ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle or to the regulation of traffic except section 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) is guilty of homicide by vehicle, a felony of the third degree, when the violation is the cause of death.” Basically, the charge requires proof that a person operated a vehicle in violation of the law and the violation resulted in the death of another person.
In a California case, a man was riding his bicycle, failed to stop at a red light, and then struck an elderly woman that was crossing the street in a crosswalk. Regretfully, the elderly woman died as a result of the injuries that she sustained. According to an online article, the bicyclist claimed that the light was yellow when he entered the intersection, but the prosecutors had a witness who testified that the man had ridden through three red lights and was traveling approximately 30 miles per hour before striking the elderly woman.
Too Severe a Penalty for a Bike Accident?
Some people may believe that the punishment in this type of case is too severe because a speeding bike generally would not result in the death of another person. The woman probably died in this case because she was elderly and frail. In Pennsylvania, Homicide by Vehicle is a third-degree felony, and a felony conviction carries severe collateral consequences.
Many of my clients often believe that the penalties that they face are too severe. The problem is that the district attorney often does not consider what is fair but instead is more concerned about what can be proven at trial. For example, some Centre County teens were recently caught attempting to steal a street sign, and they were charged with a more severe misdemeanor offense than most DUI offenders. My response is that the criminal justice system is often not fair, and you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to act as your advocate in the system to try and get the best possible resolution. If this bike accident happened in State College, I believe that the Centre County District Attorney would not hesitate in bringing a Homicide by Vehicle prosecution.