Intoxication manslaughter is the legal term for what an individual may be charged with following a fatal vehicle crash while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even if the accused driver was technically not at fault for the crash, he or she may still be charged with intoxication manslaughter, also called vehicular manslaughter in some states.

The difference between homicide and manslaughter is that the former requires a motive, premeditation, or conscious act, while manslaughter requires criminal negligence which resulted in death. If an individual has any prior DUI convictions, he or she may be charged with murder.

In California, this crime is known as “Watson murder” and carries a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison. A defendant will face murder charges under the premise that they had already been warned of the risk of driving under the influence from their previous arrest and conviction.

Most states have some type of intoxication manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter statute. In Texas, intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony with prison sentences ranging from 2 to 20 years, in addition to fines and hundreds of hours of community service.

If the victim was an on-duty firefighter, peace officer, or an emergency medical services provider, the charge would be a first-degree felony, with penalties of 5 years to life in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Is Intoxication Manslaughter a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Intoxication manslaughter can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances of the case. Usually, if there are other aggravating factors to an intoxication manslaughter charge, such as driving without a license or reckless driving, an individual may be charged with a felony.

If the charge was a first offense with no aggravating factors and no injuries or death, it may be charged as a misdemeanor.

What are the Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter?

The penalties for intoxication manslaughter vary from state to state, and depend on whether the person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony. Using Texas as an example, common penalties include:

  • Fines up to $10,000;
  • Incarceration, ranging from 2 to 20 years;
  • Community service hours, with a minimum of 240 hours up to 800 hours;
  • Driver’s license suspension of 180 days to two years; and/or
  • Substance abuse counseling.

Additionally, other penalties such as the installation of an ignition interlock device, or even permanent revocation of driving privileges may result.

What are Some Other Forms of Intoxication Manslaughter?

In addition to driving under the influence, other forms of intoxication manslaughter exist. For instance, operating a boat or plane while intoxicated could result in intoxication manslaughter charges if someone is killed.

If an individual was intoxicated while working on a roller coaster ride, and someone dies, they too may be charged with intoxication manslaughter. It is up to the state to define what constitutes this type of crime, and an attorney in your jurisdiction will be able to clarify your state’s laws.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I am Charged with Intoxication Manslaughter?

If you have been charged with intoxication manslaughter, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately. This is a serious criminal charge, and an experienced lawyer will be able to advise you of your rights and your best course of action, put together your defense, and represent you in court.