Driving after having a few beers may seem like a harmless action. You may feel like you can “handle your alcohol” better than most. You may think you are “just fine to drive.” But what you probably aren’t considering is that your decision to drive while possibly under the influence (DUI) can be fatal to not only yourself, but to others on the roadway. If you drive drunk, cause an accident and kill another person – whether it’s another driver, a pedestrian, a passenger, or a cyclist -- you may be charged with either DUI manslaughter or DUI murder. Below you will find important information about both offenses, including elements of the crimes, and where to go to find legal representation.
DUI Manslaughter: Ordinary Negligence vs. Gross Negligence
DUI manslaughter charges are more common than DUI murder charges. Simply put, an intoxicated driver is arrested after causing an accident that resulted in the death of another person. The driver did not intend to cause the death, but it happened as a result of drunk driving.
Keep in mind, manslaughter laws vary by state. In most jurisdictions, there are two types of DUI manslaughter laws:
- DUI manslaughter with ordinary negligence
- DUI manslaughter with gross negligence (also called “criminal negligence” or “culpable negligence”)
DUI manslaughter with ordinary negligence: Here, the defendant has usually violated a traffic law, but his/her level of violation or conduct is not considered extremely negligent. For instance, the intoxicated driver is briefly inattentive while looking down at his or her phone and causes a fatality.
DUI manslaughter with gross negligence: This charge requires the driver to act with extreme recklessness such as being under the influence and driving up on a sidewalk to get past traffic and killing a pedestrian or a person who drives at a high rate of speed and on the wrong side of the road, killing people in his or her path.
Possible penalties can include loss of your driver’s license, restitution to the victim(s), and a prison sentence of up to 10 years in some cases, depending on the facts of the case.
A DUI murder charge is one of the most serious crimes involving a motor vehicle. While harder for the prosecution to prove in most states, if you are involved a DUI crash and cause a fatality, prosecutors may be able to charge you with a variation of DUI murder.
In California, if an intoxicated driver causes the death of a person, the driver’s behavior may be classified as “extremely indifferent to human life.” Known as the “Watson Rule,” this rule mandates that someone can be convicted of second-degree murder if he or she killed another in a drunk driving accident in certain circumstances. In People v. Watson, the driver was found guilty of DUI murder after driving 70 mph in a 35 mph zone, having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.23 percent, and striking and killing two persons in another car. However, the prosecution will need to prove three things:
- Death resulted from an intentional act,
- the natural consequences of that act are dangerous to human life, and
- the driver knowingly acted with conscious disregard of human life.
As to the third element, the driver doesn’t need to intend to kill another person. These murder charges are sometimes known as "depraved heart" killings and carry the largest penalties including long prison sentences, huge fines, and much more.
Facing a DUI Manslaughter or DUI Murder Charge? Contact a Lawyer
DUI laws in the U.S. impose tough penalties on those convicted – especially when it comes to taking another person's life. A DUI manslaughter or DUI murder conviction can have devastating and long-lasting effects on your life. That's why it's extremely important to consult a knowledgeable DUI lawyer in your jurisdiction. An attorney with significant experience in DUI charges can help you defend your case and attempt to get the charges reduced or dropped.