Intoxication manslaughter is the crime of killing another person while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This crime occurs in the context of drunk driving. If a driver, as a result of being intoxicated, kills another person, the driver may be charged with intoxication manslaughter. This crime is known as DUI manslaughter in many states.

To be convicted, the driver need not intend to kill another person, or intend to cause a crash.The driver must act with some degree of negligence, and that negligence must cause the death of another.

What are the Elements of the Crime of Intoxication Manslaughter?

Most states have two types of intoxication manslaughter offenses. The first of these is known as intoxication manslaughter with ordinary negligence. The second is known as intoxication manslaughter with culpable (criminal) negligence.

To be convicted of intoxication manslaughter with ordinary negligence, a defendant must, as a result of intoxication, cause a driving fatality. Victims can include other passengers, drivers, or pedestrians. In this type of offense, it is sufficient for the act of manslaughter to have occurred as a result of “plain” negligence.

That is, the defendant need merely be inattentive under the circumstances as a result of intoxication, and that inattention must result in the fatality. Inattentiveness may consist of briefly looking at a cell phone before causing the fatality, driving at a slightly excessive rate of speed, or carelessly following another driver too closely for a short period of time.

For a defendant to be convicted of intoxication manslaughter with criminal negligence (sometimes referred to as gross negligence), the driver’s intoxicated behavior that causes the fatality must be reckless under the circumstances. In this type of manslaughter, the driver’s intoxication causes the driver to act with “reckless disregard,” or indifference, to the safety of others.

Examples of acts of intoxication manslaughter with criminal negligence include, for example, driving in the wrong lane, the wrong side of the road, running through a red light, or driving through a stop sign. In each case, the reckless intoxicated behavior causes the fatality.

For each type of intoxicated manslaughter, the prosecution must show:

  • Defendant committed an intentional act while in physical control of a vehicle;
  • Defendant committed the intentional act while, and a result of being, impaired; and
  • The act caused the death of another.

For intoxication manslaughter with ordinary negligence, the prosecution must also show the intentional act was negligent. For intoxication manslaughter with criminal negligence, the prosecution must show the intentional act was grossly negligent.

Are There Defenses to a Charge of Intoxication Manslaughter?

A defendant can assert defenses to a charge of intoxication manslaughter. Defenses include:

  • The defendant was not intoxicated. The defendant must show that the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to prove intoxication;
  • The defendant did not act with negligence. If the defendant acted as a reasonable person would have under the same set of facts, the negligence needed to prove intoxication manslaughter is absent; and
  • The defendant’s actions did not cause the fatality. To prove the offense of intoxication manslaughter, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s act was a substantial contributing factor to the fatality. If the defendant can show there is no causal relationship between the defendant’s action and the death, the defendant has not committed the offense. The defendant can establish this defense by proving, for example, that slippery road conditions, hazardous weather, or another driver’s negligence, were responsible for the death.

What are the Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter?

Intoxication manslaughter is typically punished as a felony under state law. Felonies carry a prison sentence of a year or more. The felony of intoxicated manslaughter may result in a prison sentence as low as two years in some states, and as high in 30 years in others. The level of recklessness with which the defendant acted is considered during sentencing. The more reckless the act that causes the death, the more substantial the prison term is likely to be.

Under certain circumstances, the sentence may be enhanced. For example, if the offense is a repeat offense, the victim is a law enforcement officer, or the defendant was driving with a suspended license, the defendant may receive a prison term of additional years.

A court may impose monetary fines. The amount of the fine depends on the state. The court considers the severity of the offense. Fines can be as high as $10,000. A court can suspend the license of a convicted defendant. A court can require the defendant to perform community service. A court may require substance abuse counseling or rehabilitation.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for a Charge of Intoxication Manslaughter?

If you face charges for intoxication manslaughter, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer. An experienced criminal defense attorney near you can evaluate your case, explain your rights and options, and represent you at hearings and in court.