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What Is Intoxication Manslaughter?

Many state laws specify that if a person, while operating a motor vehicle, commits an offense while intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake, they can be charged with intoxication manslaughter, usually considered a second degree felony. While the defendant probably did not intend to cause bodily harm or death by their actions, in cases of crimes committed while under intoxication, it can be considered voluntary manslaughter (rather than involuntary manslaughter). This is because the defendant should have realized the danger that is inherent in operating a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol (or drugs).

Many states also classify this as vehicular manslaughter or “intoxicated manslaughter.” Most states have some basic form of intoxication manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter statute. In particular, the state of Texas has very specifically defined intoxication manslaughter laws, and the crime can sometimes be highly publicized in that state. 

Is Intoxication Manslaughter a Felony or a Misdemeanor?

Depending upon the circumstances, intoxication manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. In most states, intoxicated manslaughter usually becomes a felony when the conduct is combined with other criminal acts, such as driving recklessly or driving without a license. Consequences for felonies are generally more severe than those resulting from misdemeanor charges. 

What Are the Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter?

Penalties for intoxication manslaughter vary from state to state. In most cases, penalties for intoxication manslaughter are similar to those for a second-time DUI offense. Typical penalties may include:

  • Criminal fines up to $10,000
  • Jail or prison time, ranging anywhere from 2-20 years
  • Mandatory substance abuse counseling

Again, the specific details for sentencing and punishment for intoxication manslaughter will depend on state laws, as wells as the individual factors in each case. 

In addition to these traditional forms of penalties, other consequences can result, such as a permanent loss of driving privileges, or the required installation of an ignition interlock/breath device on the defendant’s vehicle.

What Are Some Other Forms of Intoxication Manslaughter?

As mentioned above, the most common form of intoxication manslaughter is where the driver kills another person while driving under the influence, whether it is another driver or a passenger in their own car. Some states also include the operation of water or aircraft under intoxication manslaughter statutes. 

In addition to these basic definitions, some states include other very specific types of intoxication manslaughter in their statutes. For example, in some states intoxication manslaughter charges can also result if a person erroneously assembles a roller coaster ride while intoxicated, and thereby causes the death of a patron due to their mistake. 

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

Intoxication manslaughter is a very specific type of criminal charge, and its definition varies widely from state to state. If you need help understanding the intoxication manslaughter laws in your area, you may wish to contact a criminal defense attorney immediately for support and guidance. Your lawyer will be able to explain how the laws may affect you, and can provide you with expert representation in court in case you are facing such charges.

Photo of page author Peter Clarke

, LegalMatch Content Manager

Last Modified: 11-16-2016 11:40 PM PST

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