ABATE of Michigan Inc.
P.O. Box 99
​Constantine, Mi. 49042

​Call: 269 435-2058


Fighting for the rights of all motorcyclists since 1976

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            Sadly, we have all heard of tragic stories where a motorcyclist is killed in an auto accident and the at fault motorist was given a "slap on the wrist" as a criminal penalty.  I myself, have many times represented the family of a deceased motorcyclist in cases where the at fault motorist has walked away without much of a criminal penalty for the accident.  In order to understand how this happens, it is necessary to understand a little bit about the usual criminal statutes that are relevant to these types of accidents and a little bit of how criminal sentencing works.

            Two of the common criminal statutes which may be involved in an accident where a motorist kills a motorcyclist are as follows

            The first is "Reckless driving on a highway", which provides that a person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public, including, but not limited to, an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property and by the operation of that vehicle causes the death of another person is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years or a fine of not less than $2,500.00 or more than $10,000.00, or both.  The penalties for a motorist causing death while operating while intoxicated is the same.  This statute may be invoked in cases where the motorist was clearly reckless such as driving in a clearly reckless manner, driving at incredibly high speeds, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

            The second "Committing moving violation causing death of another person", which provides that a person who commits a moving violation while operating a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public, including, but not limited to, an area designated for the parking of motor vehicles, that causes the death of another person is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 1 year or a fine of not more than $2,000.00, or both. As used in this section, “moving violation” means an act or omission prohibited under this act or a local ordinance substantially corresponding to this act that involves the operation of a motor vehicle, and for which a fine may be assessed.  This statute may be involved where the motorist committed a moving violation such as running a stop sign or red light or making a turn without yielding the right of way to oncoming traffic, under circumstances which don't rise to the level of being deemed reckless driving. 

            Most crimes involve "discretionary sentencing" by the Judge, meaning that while criminal statues may set forth some sentencing parameters, the actual sentence in any given case is within the discretion of the judge.  Many times the Judge is provided a presentence report which contains information concerning the nature of the crime, the defendant's criminal history and other pertinent information.  Many times, defendants and the victims of the crime or the victim's family are given an opportunity to speak with the judge as well. 
Additionally, for many crimes the judge will consult "sentencing guidelines" which are essentially a scorecard where points are assessed depending on the nature of the criminal conduct at issue and the defendant's criminal record.  These factors are then utilized by the Judge to determine the minimum sentence that the defendant will serve.  The sentence is not always a jail or prison sentence.  Depending on the crime, the Judge can order jail/prison time, probation, fines, costs, community service or a combination of any of these. 

            As can be seen in the reckless driving statute, it is possible for a judge to impose a term of imprisonment of no more than 15 years, or the judge can opt for a fine of between $2,500.00 and $10,000.00 or can opt for both.  In the moving violation statute, it is possible for the judge to impose a term of not more than 1 year or fine of up to $2,000.00, or can opt for both.  However, in either circumstances, depending on how the judge weighs the many factors surrounding the defendant's criminal conduct and criminal record, the actual minimum sentence imposed by the Judge and actually served by the defendant in either case can be significantly less than the maximums set by statute. 

            That is how it is possible for sentences to vary from a "slap on the wrist" to someone getting the "book thrown at them" in accidents in which a motorist kills a motorcyclist.  If the accident involved a moving violation which didn't rise to the level of reckless driving and there were no aggravating circumstances surrounding the accident and the motorist has no criminal record, there is a greater chance for a lesser sentence.  If the accident involved reckless driving, there were aggravating circumstances surrounding the accident and the motorist has a significant criminal history, there is a greater chance for a heavier sentence. 

            The bottom line is that there really is no cookie cutter sentence that applies across the board in accidents where a motorist kills a motorcyclist.  Much of it depends on which criminal statute the defendant is charged with, the facts of the accident, the criminal record of the defendant and the particular judge issuing the sentence. 

            As always, if anyone has any questions or if I can be of legal assistance to you or anyone you know who has been injured in a motorcycle accident, please don’t hesitate to contact me as I deal with these types of claims on a daily basis on behalf of injured motorcyclists statewide.

            Further, if you would like to have me come out to your Region to speak or give a presentation on the legal rights of an injured motorcyclist or on any specific topic that your region may be curious about, please don’t hesitate to give me a call at (248-569-4646) or shoot me an e-mail at Dondi@buckfirelaw.com.  I give presentations to Regions state-wide and there is never a charge associated with having me out.  I enjoy having the opportunity to come out and meet motorcycle enthusiasts from all parts of our State!   

shifting gears

Dondi Vesprini dondi@buckfirelaw.com

Phone: 248 569-4646