If a DUI driver causes another person’s death, they could face a multitude of serious criminal charges. The most serious of which would likely be Negligent Homicide, a class 4 felony, Manslaughter, a class 2 felony, or Second-Degree Murder, a class 1 felony. These charges would all likely be charged as dangerous offenses, which means that a conviction at trial would result in a mandatory prison sentence that would generally be between 4 and 8 years, 7 and 21 years, and 10 to 25 years, respectively. The elements of each of these offenses are discussed below.
With the potential of life-altering serious consequences, if you or a loved one is arrested for DUI resulting from an accident that causes death, you must contact a defense attorney to protect your rights and start working with you on your case. Call Stone Rose today to speak with a Phoenix DUI lawyer. We can be reached 24/7.
In order to understand the difference between Negligent Homicide, Manslaughter, and Second-Degree Murder, one must first understand the mental State applicable to each.
Negligent Homicide: For instance, Negligent Homicide requires that the State prove that a defendant acted with criminal negligence. A person acts with criminal negligence when they fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a harm described by a criminal statute will occur. Criminal negligence is akin to gross negligence in a civil case in that the risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it represents a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe.
Manslaughter: In contrast, Manslaughter requires criminally reckless conduct, which occurs when the actor is aware of and consciously disregards the substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm that his conduct creates yet does it anyway. Note that a person who creates risk and is unaware of it merely by virtue of their voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly with respect to such risk. This means that one cannot generally argue in court that they weren’t reckless because they were too drunk to realize the magnitude of the risk they were creating.
Second Degree Murder: Lastly, in the vehicular context, Second Degree Murder requires that the defendant, under the circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death, thereby causing the death of another person or an unborn child.
It is helpful to consider hypothetical situations when considering the differences between Negligent Homicide, Manslaughter, and Second-Degree Murder. In doing so, one must remain conscious of the fact that it is relatively rare for a person to be charged with Negligent Homicide or Second-Degree Murder in cases where a DUI accident causes someone’s death. Thus, the facts that would best describe those offenses in this context lie at the outer ends of the spectrum in terms of plausibility.
Meanwhile, most DUI accident cases that cause the death of another result in a Manslaughter charge, which encompasses the types of fact patterns typically giving rise to DUI related homicide charges. With the preceding in mind, consider a situation where a 16-year-old who grew up in a remote area of the Himalayas was never exposed to alcohol before. Suppose further that he came to the United States, and on the same day was simultaneously introduced to both beer and driving. If that unlucky individual drove while impaired and turned left in front of someone, and that act caused another’s death, he would likely be charged with Negligent Homicide as opposed to Manslaughter. This is because he failed to perceive (i.e., was unaware of) the substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm that his conduct, driving while intoxicated, would create. Now consider that same situation, except replace the 16-year-old Himalayan with a thirty-year-old American who grew up watching commercials about the dangers of drunk driving on television. The American would be charged with Manslaughter because they would know that driving drunk would create a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm to others. Finally, suppose a drunk driver sped through a school zone at 100 mph at 2:45 p.m. right when the kids were leaving for the day, and that he hit and killed a crossing guard as he stood in a crosswalk assisting children with crossing the street. This individual would be charged with Manslaughter because he manifested an extreme indifference to human life while recklessly engaging in conduct, creating a grave risk of death.
As with any charge arising out of an allegation that a person drove while intoxicated, the three offenses discussed herein can always be defended by attacking the State’s evidence of intoxication. To do this, attorneys typically rely on expert witnesses, who can lay bare the problems with the methods used by the State to prove that a driver was impaired. Also, Phoenix criminal defense attorneys can defend against these types of charges by arguing that the prohibited conduct did not cause the alleged victim’s death.
In Arizona, a defendant’s act causes a result if it produces the result, and the result would not have occurred without the defendant’s act. Suppose this standard is applied to the hypothetical above (which describes the differences between Negligent Homicide and Manslaughter). In that case, an accident reconstructionist could be retained to demonstrate that the car in front of whom the DUI driver turned was speeding. A human factors expert (i.e., an expert on human capabilities) could then provide testimony regarding the fact that people, whether sober or not, are generally not good at judging the speed of oncoming objects. Suppose the jury believed the testimony of these experts. In that case, it is conceivable that a defendant charged under those circumstances would be acquitted because the accident would have happened regardless of whether the DUI driver was impaired or not.
If you are involved in an accident that causes the death of another person, and the State thinks that it was caused by the fact that you were impaired by alcohol or drugs, then you will almost certainly face one of the charges described in this section. If that happens, no less than life as you know it will be at stake. Under those circumstances, you need experienced and aggressive representation to protect your rights. Stone Rose Law can help, so call now for a free consultation.