What is Culpable Driving Causing Death?
Culpable driving is established when an accused person, whilst driving a motor vehicle causes the death of another person either recklessly, criminally negligently or whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958 states that “a person who by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle causes the death of another, shall be guilty of an indictable offence”. (You can follow the link to read more on indictable offences).
To find a person guilty of the offence the Prosecution need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- You were driving a motor vehicle;
- Your driving was culpable; and
- The culpable driving caused the death of another
Pursuant to section 318(2) of the Crimes Act, ‘culpable driving’ is defined as someone who drives a motor vehicle:
(c) Whilst under the influence of alcohol to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle; or
(d) Whilst under the influence of a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle.
What is the maximum penalty for the offence of Culpable Driving?
If found guilty, the maximum penalty for this offence is 20 years in prison or 2400 penalty units or both. First offenders might expect 5 to 12 years imprisonment if found guilty in relation to culpable driving causing death. There may be aggravating or mitigating factors for the offending which increase or decrease the term of imprisonment.
The standard sentence for culpable driving is 8 years imprisonment. This is the starting point and only one factor that the court must take into account, it does not mean on a plea of guilty that a person charged with culpable drive will receive 8 years imprisonment.
It is also now a charge that attracts mandatory gaol, and this cannot be a community corrections order and a gaol sentence, it must be a gaol sentence where a parole period is imposed, which means longer than 12 months. There are only rare exceptions where this does not apply.
Consequently it is not surprising that the Sentencing Advisory Council statistics demonstrate that almost 99% of offenders charged with culpable driving causing death receive a term of imprisonment. To see the statistics, please click the link.
In relation to the offenders drivers licence, section 89(2)(b) of the Sentencing Act 1991 specifies that if convicted for the offence of culpable driving, the court must disqualify the offender from driving for at least 24 months.
Where will my case be heard?
The charge must be heard in either the County or Supreme Court. If proceeding as a not guilty plea, the matter must be heard before a jury containing 12 members of the public.
Why is preparation important?
The most crucial aspect of these cases – and all jury trials – is extensive preparation.
After considering the materials and taking instructions, the first question to consider is whether a defence exists. If there is no defence or it is borderline, then next thing that must be considered is whether it is appropriate to offer a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death. There are cases where defendants have not immediately been imprisoned in relation to this lesser charge.
One thing you should never do is run a trial you cannot win. The outcome will be worse, it will be expensive and ultimately is not in your best interests.
If we determine that you have a defence then it must be considered at an early stage. Whenever you run a criminal defence, particularly in relation to culpable driving, it is preferable to have witnesses and documents to support that defence. The more evidence you have to support your case the more likely you are to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are not guilty .
Materials that may be required:
- Expert report in relation to the car you were driving. i.e. you are a truck driver and the poor truck maintenance was the cause of the accident.
- Expert report in relation to other vehicles. i.e. another motorist did something that was unexpected, causing the accident. That is born out by a defence analysis of the offending vehicle.
- Expert report to provide contrary evidence to the prosecution expert.
- Research into the area of the collision. Have there been other accidents in the same area with a similar outcome?
- Are there witnesses who were not provided in the initial brief of evidence and who may support your assertion that your were not culpable in your driving?
- Does the prosecution have other materials in their possession that may exonerate you, but have not been revealed after initial disclosure?
The list is endless and is dependent on each case.
Do I need a lawyer?
Due to the serious nature of this offence, we highly recommend you engage a law firm accredited by the Law Institute of Victoria as being criminal law specialists. You need to come to a law firm that has run and won numerous jury trials, and you need to come to a criminal law firm that is committed to getting you the best possible outcome.
If you have been charged with culpable driving causing death then you need to find a law firm with experience in handling these types of cases as it is a very serious offence.
Dribbin & Brown Traffic Lawyers have offices in the Melbourne CBD, Dandenong, Ringwood, Moorabbin, Frankston, Werribee, Geelong and Ballarat. Our team of lawyers have a wealth of experience running culpable driving jury trials and can assist you if you are facing Court.
If you have been charged with culpable driving please don’t hesitate. Call Dribbin & Brown Traffic Lawyers today.