Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is dangerous, and unfortunately, all too often it can prove to be deadly. If you drive while intoxicated and cause an accident that results in a person's death, you can be held responsible for vehicular manslaughter. The severity of a vehicular manslaughter charge and its accompanying penalties depends on the circumstances of your accident and your past history with DUI.
Types of Felony DUI Charges
In the state of California, there are three different felony DUI charges that you can face in this scenario: second-degree murder (also known as a "Watson murder"), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and negligent manslaughter while intoxicated. A Watson murder is the most serious of these charges.
If a person has been convicted of a DUI in the past and is later involved in a subsequent DUI that resulted in the death of another person, they could be charged with murder. A "Watson Murder," so named from the original case of People v. Watson (2000), comes with a minimum 15 year to life in prison penalty. One or more past DUI convictions is evidence enough to prosecute for a second-degree murder offense under the theory of implied malice, which states that the accused knew the risks they were undertaking in choosing to drive while intoxicated and still acted on them anyway. Intent to kill is not a factor – only the fact that they did kill.
A charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can be given if it can be proven that the driver caused an accident through more than an average act of negligence. In other words, they must have acted in a manner that a reasonable person would know is dangerous. For example, if a person drives through a school zone going 75 miles an hour while intoxicated, this would be an example of gross negligence. Penalties can include prison sentences of anywhere from 4 to 10 years.
Negligent manslaughter while intoxicated is similar to the above, but with a more average type of negligence. For example, if a drunk driver is driving their vehicle within the speed limit, but they cause a collision that kills another driver because they took their eyes off of the road for only a moment, this would be considered ordinary negligence. Depending on the facts of the case and the criminal history of the accused, a charge of negligent manslaughter can either be pursued as a felony or a misdemeanor, and can result in 1 to 4 years in prison.
Legal Help for DUI Manslaughter Charges
If you are facing manslaughter charges after operating your vehicle under the influence, contact an experienced DUI lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney may be able to help defend you against your charges by challenging your accusations of intoxication and negligence.
No matter what charges you are facing, the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP can help. Contact us today for a free legal consultation.