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DUI Manslaughter and DUI Murder

If you drive drunk, get in an accident, and cause the death of another person, you may be charged with DUI manslaughter or DUI murder. It doesn't matter that you might have thought you were safe to drive. If you drive while under the influence of alcohol and cause a DUI accident, you're responsible for the consequences of your choice. You can be found guilty of a misdemeanor or felony, be charged with negligent homicide or a more serious charge, and end up facing prison time.

This article provides essential information about both DUI manslaughter and DUI murder. First, the article discusses DUI manslaughter and elements of the crime. Then the article addresses DUI murder and its elements.

DUI Manslaughter: Ordinary Negligence vs. Gross Negligence

DUI manslaughter charges are more common than DUI murder charges. Law enforcement will arrest an intoxicated driver for this crime if the driver caused an accident resulting in another person's death. In the case of DUI manslaughter, the driver didn't intend to cause the death, yet it happened due to drunk driving.

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"

In DUI manslaughter with ordinary negligence, the defendant usually violates a traffic law, but their level of violation or conduct is not considered extremely negligent. For instance, the drunk driver might be briefly inattentive while looking down at their phone, causing a fatality. This is also known as vehicular manslaughter.

A charge of DUI manslaughter with gross negligence requires the driver to act with extreme recklessness. An example is being under the influence, driving up on a sidewalk to get past traffic, and killing a pedestrian. Another example of extreme reckless driving is a motorist driving at a high rate of speed on the wrong side of the road, killing people in their path. This is also known as gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Possible penalties for DUI manslaughter can include:

  • Loss of your driver's license
  • Restitution to the victim(s)
  • A prison sentence of up to 10 years, depending on the facts of the case

DUI Murder

A DUI murder charge is one of the most serious crimes involving a motor vehicle. In most states, it's harder for the prosecution to prove. But if you're involved in a DUI crash and cause a death, prosecutors may be able to charge you with a variation of DUI murder. This is also known as vehicular homicide.

In California, if an intoxicated driver causes a person's death, the driver's behavior may be classified as “extremely indifferent to human life." What's known as the Watson rule mandates that, under certain circumstances, someone can be convicted of second-degree murder if they kill another person in a drunk driving accident.

In People v. Watson (1981), a driver in Redding, California, was found guilty of DUI murder after driving 70 mph in a 35 mph zone, striking and killing two people in another car. The driver's blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was 0.23%.

To sustain a conviction, the prosecution has to prove three things:

  1. The death resulted from an intentional act.
  2. The natural consequences of that act were dangerous to human life.
  3. The driver knowingly acted with conscious disregard for human life.

For the third element, the driver doesn't need to intend to kill another person. This kind of homicide charge is sometimes known as a depraved heart killing. This type of murder carries the most severe penalties, including lengthy state prison sentences, more significant fines, and license suspension or revocation.

Facing a DUI Manslaughter or DUI Murder Charge? Contact a Defense Lawyer

DUI and DWI laws across the U.S. impose harsh penalties on those convicted. This is especially true when it comes to taking another person's life. A DUI manslaughter or murder conviction can have devastating and long-lasting effects on your life. Get legal advice from a knowledgeable DUI lawyer in your jurisdiction to learn more about any criminal charges you face after driving drunk. A criminal defense attorney with experience in DUI law can help with your defense. An experienced attorney can be especially helpful if you have prior DUI convictions.

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