How Many Years Do You Get for DUI Manslaughter? Here Are the Details!
A DUI manslaughter conviction in Texas is a big deal, as it is in other states. By definition, it's never something that someone intends to commit, yet it can be a turning point in the lives of the arrested individual, the family of the deceased, and more.
As expected, the penalties associated with a DUI manslaughter charge are pretty steep, which is why going into the court proceedings, a proper strategy is needed to ensure the best possible outcome.
It second-degree felony after all, which means it's well beyond the kind of criminal charges that someone would see even on a third DUI charge.
One of the best ways to prepare is to have a defense attorney that is experienced in criminal law in Texas. Sparks Law Firm stands ready, willing, and able to use its knowledge of DUI laws to help its clients to the best possible outcomes.
Schedule a free consultation today by calling (817) 381-7846.
Differentiating Manslaughter in Texas Law from Murder
Should one kill another person directly, it is known as homicide. However, it will not be seen as murder every time someone causes the death of another person. For example, if killing is committed out of malice and contempt, this would be an illegal act.
On the flip side, should someone kill another in self-defense, there will likely be no charges placed on that person's criminal record.
Such is the difference between murder and manslaughter in Texas. As far as manslaughter is concerned, there is no premeditation or malicious intent, while murder can be characterized by either or both of these things. Therefore, manslaughter will typically have less steep penalties.
Defining Intoxication Manslaughter
Even for those who understand the concept of a person's death happening as the result of manslaughter, the term "intoxication manslaughter" is still shrouded in mystery. Put simply, this is the name given to a charge that comes as a result of someone causing a fatal accident because of drunk driving.
Interestingly, the matter of fault is less relevant here than it probably would be in other contexts. Even the person who is not at fault could technically still be hit by the charge.
While some context was given above, here is a formal separation of intoxication manslaughter from standard murder:
First, there is the premeditation element discussed above. Naturally, someone who is driving under the influence would not intend to cause any death, though there can be exceptions (which would not be classed under the manslaughter umbrella).
Criminal negligence tends to be at the center of these kinds of manslaughter cases. While the death may not have been intentional, some level of recklessness would've been displayed.
For clarification, for the behavior to be classified as criminal negligence, it must demonstrate a disregard for the safety of others and is reckless beyond any level of reason.
Intoxication manslaughter would not require the driver to be violating a host of traffic laws for the requirement of negligence to be met. The act of simply operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit is enough to qualify as negligent action.
Texas Penal Code § 49.08 is only concerned with two elements, which are driving under the influence of alcohol and causing a fatal motor vehicle accident. Note that only the driver can be implicated in this charge.
This form of negligence speaks to the intoxicated driver causing the fatality or fatalities because of a brief period during which there is a lapse in focus. For example, when an accident is caused because the driver was distracted by texting, it would be typical (ordinary) negligence.
Gross vehicular manslaughter comes into play when there is a secondary action atop driving under the influence, which also constitutes negligence. For example, if the drunk driver were speeding or running traffic lights when the death of the other person was caused.
What Kind of Penalties Can Be Faced for Vehicular Manslaughter in Texas?
Even though intoxication manslaughter charges are associated with an unintentional act, it doesn't change the fact that the state of Texas views the taking of another person's life as a serious matter and will treat it as such.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding the vehicular manslaughter, any of the penalties below may apply.
Significant fines are associated with intoxication vehicular manslaughter in Texas. A fine of up to $10,000 is applicable.
Beyond the fine, committing this crime in Texas will also attract a term of mandatory community service. At least 240 hours must be done, however, a maximum of 800 may be imposed.
Note that this is not an alternative to fines or prison time. It must be served in addition to these penalties.
As expected, a DUI manslaughter conviction can lead to a very lengthy prison sentence. In Texas, since the crime is seen as a second-degree felony, it will attract a sentence of anywhere between two and 20 years in prison.
Note that there is a mandatory minimum that comes with the sentence. In other words, when assigned a sentence, a person may be eligible for release on parole after a certain time. In Texas, the first two years must be served before the eligibility becomes active.
Other Devices Can Also Create an Intoxication Manslaughter Case
Contrary to popular belief, intoxication manslaughter is not limited to driving a road-based vehicle. The matter can be expanded to a series of other forms of transportation such as a boat or an airplane.
Even an operator of a carnival amusement ride can potentially face a DUI manslaughter charge if there was a spell of intoxication that directly led to a fatal accident.
The Voluntary Intoxication Distinction
Not all cases of being under the influence will lead to a DUI manslaughter case if a fatal accident is caused. That's because voluntary intoxication is required. In other words, the person committing the crime would need to have knowingly entered a state of being drunk, high, etc.
This could be from having alcoholic drinks, smoking marijuana by choice, etc. Even if the person did not think intoxication would occur, having the drink or substance voluntarily would be enough to yield a charge.
Bear in mind that people can also enter such states without being aware. For example, people can unknowingly have "spiked" drinks that intoxicate them without any knowledge of same. In these cases, the persons would not be culpable for any resulting death.
Factors That Affect the Outcome of Intoxication Manslaughter Charges
Of course, the circumstances surrounding the actual incident will affect the outcome of the case. For example, was the intoxicated party demonstrating gross negligence or not? Consider the following factors that can also play a part in the eventual outcome of the case:
The existence of any prior DUI convictions
The presence of a child in the vehicle when the act occurred
A discovery of an open container in the driver's vehicle
A situation in which the victim was either a first responder or a law enforcement official
A blood alcohol level that is significantly above the legal limit (anything over 0.14%)
Though intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree matter, it can be treated as a stage above, which could see the defendant looking at life in prison upon conviction.
How Long Is It Before Prior DUI Offenses will No Longer Matter?
Any previous convictions being factored into the case will make a DUI manslaughter case even worse. So, the question often pops up surrounding how long will need to pass before a previous DUI conviction is no longer a part of the equation.
While there may be a limited lookback period in other states, this is not the case in Texas. Regardless of how long ago the last charge happened, it will always be a factor.
How a Defense Lawyer May Attempt to Dismiss the Notion of Criminal Negligence
Any top-rated DWI lawyers in Fort Worth that wish to successfully defend a client implicated in an intoxication manslaughter situation must prove that while the death happened, it was not directly related to the client's driving under the influence.
There are several sources of evidence that could help in proving such a claim such as video footage and eyewitness testimony. After all, the intention is to simply create reasonable doubt.
An example would be a case where the defendant had a blood alcohol content of 0.08% but the deceased party ran a red light, caused the accident, and died in the process. In this case, the intoxicated driver would not be responsible for what took place.
Establish an Attorney-client Relationship with an Experienced Fort Worth DUI Attorney Today!
In a typical DUI matter, perhaps the most inconvenient element would be a driver's license suspension. However, in the case of intoxication manslaughter, there are much higher and more serious stakes at play with consequences such as up to 20 years in prison.
If you are facing intoxication manslaughter charges in Fort Worth, Texas, only a competent attorney can help you to fight. No sensitive or confidential information provided will be shared, thanks to your attorney-client relationship. They can also help address concerns such as how to get your car back after a DUI or how many DUI cases go to trial.
Schedule a free consultation with Sparks Law Firm today by calling (817) 381-7846.