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National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Tennessee Bar Association
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13-year-old Charged with Vehicular Homicide

WBBJ reported that police charged a 13-year-old boy with vehicular homicide after a fatal car crash on Sunday, March, 7th. The teen was allegedly fleeing the scene of another hit-and-run crash when he ran a red light, swerved to miss another car, lost control of his car, and crashed into David Cheatham’s car, killing Mr. Cheatham.

After being released from Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital he was charged in Davidson County Juvenile Court with vehicular homicide, driving without a license, and no proof of insurance. His name was not released due to his age. 

Visit 13-year-old charged with vehicular homicide in fatal Tennessee crash - WBBJ TV to view the original story.

Vehicular homicide is defined under T.C.A. § 39-13-213 as the reckless killing of another by operation of an automobile as the proximate result of the defendant’s (a) conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury, (b) intoxication, (c) participation in drag racing, or (d) conduct resulting in the death of a construction worker in a construction zone. Vehicular homicide as the proximate result of the defendant’s conduct creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury in a Class C Felony if committed by an adult. A Class C felony carries a sentence range of 3 to 15 years.

The teen in this case is charged in Davidson County Juvenile Court, meaning he does not have the right to a jury trial and will not be “convicted;” instead, the youth would be adjudicated delinquent if found guilty. The goal of juvenile court is to rehabilitate the youth when possible, not to punish them. 

Some of the possible dispositions for cases that remain in Juvenile Court include an informal adjustment, pretrial diversion, judicial diversion, supervised probation, or a stay of DCS custody which includes hardware secure facilities and community-based facilities.

Youth adjudicated delinquent of violent crimes against persons are generally placed in hardware secure facilities. There are two of these in Tennessee – one in Dandridge and one in Somerville.  Youth in hardware secure facilities generally stay for longer periods of time due to the length of their sentence. Youth placed in community-based facilities, run by provider partners, generally have a length of stay of up to 6 months. These community based programs focus on treating mental health and behavioral issues. They also provide family and individual counseling and in home services when the youth returns home. 

In some instances, a minor’s case may be transferred from Juvenile to Criminal Court. To transfer a case there must first be a transfer hearing. One main consideration for the Court is the age of the juvenile. For example, a transfer is more likely to be granted for a 17-year-old than a 14-year-old for the same offense depending on their record. In addition to age, the Court will consider the child’s prior delinquency record, the nature of the offense, past treatment efforts, whether the act was committed in an aggressive or premeditated manner, and the possibility of rehabilitating the child. T.C.A. § 37-1-134 outlines specific offenses for certain age ranges that have been deemed appropriate to transfer, such as First or Second Degree Murder, Rape, Aggravated Robbery, Aggravated Burglary, Kidnapping, Carjacking, or an attempt to commit any such offense. If the juvenile is charged with a crime that is not listed as an appropriate charge to transfer based on the teen’s age range, then the case will stay in Juvenile Court. 

If the transfer is granted the juvenile will be prosecuted and possibly found guilty and sentenced as an adult. Based on the facts known to date, the teenager in this case is only 13-years-old. Pursuant to § 37-1-134, juveniles age 14 or younger will only be transferred for first or second degree murder. Therefore, the 13-year-old will not be transferred to Criminal Court and tried as an adult for vehicular homicide.