In at least one state, Texas, lawmakers have created a category of homicide that applies to situations where a drunk or intoxicated person operates a motor vehicle and causes the death of someone else. The crime is known as “intoxication manslaughter.” While Texas is currently the only state that has identified “intoxication manslaughter” as an independent offense, other states have similar homicide laws that apply in the same type of situation. Depending on the state, these laws are known as DUI manslaughter, DUI causing injury or death, vehicular manslaughter, or by similar terms.
Homicide, Manslaughter, and Murder
Anytime a person kills another person, that is known as a homicide. However, not all homicides are illegal—for example, a killing done in self defense is not illegal. Criminal homicides are divided into two main types, murder and manslaughter. Murder is the more serious of the two, while manslaughter is considered a less serious crime.
The key difference between murder and manslaughter is that in manslaughter a person kills someone else without malice, malicious intent, or premeditation. Manslaughter crimes carry less severe punishments than murder, because they involve an excuse, an explanation, or another reason that makes the defendant less culpable than if he or she had acted with malice or premedication.
An intoxication manslaughter charge typically results when a person drinks, gets behind the wheel, and gets in a crash that kills someone. The person killed can be a passenger in the driver's vehicle, the occupant of another car, or a pedestrian. The death does not have to happen immediately, and can result from injuries caused by the crash.
People who are intoxicated are drunk, high, or otherwise lack the ability to use their normal mental or physical abilities because they used some kind of drug or chemical. Alcohol and illegal drugs are the most common causes of intoxication, but it can also result from taking prescription medications or a combination of substances. Intoxication is measured in a variety of ways, including through the use of field sobriety tests, blood alcohol tests, and drug tests.
People can be legally intoxicated even if they don't feel drunk or high. For example, if you are driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, you are legally intoxicated even if you feel normal and do not believe you are impaired.
Vehicle or Other Device
Intoxication manslaughter crimes apply when a person is driving a car while intoxicated. However, these laws also apply to situations where an intoxicated person operates an airplane or boat, or even a carnival or amusement ride. For example, the Texas law specifically provides that if an intoxicated person operates or assembles an amusement park ride that results in someone's death, that person has committed vehicular manslaughter.
Intoxication manslaughter crimes apply when a person kills someone else as a result of a voluntary state of intoxication. This means that if a person knowingly gets drunk, high, or otherwise becomes intoxicated and then gets behind the wheel and kills someone, he has committed an intoxication manslaughter. If, on the other hand, you are unknowingly given a drug that results in your becoming intoxicated, you are not culpable for the resulting death. However, if you in any way use an intoxicant voluntarily, even if you didn't believe it would result in getting drunk or high, you are voluntarily intoxicated.
The taking of another person's life is the most serious crime recognized under the law. Even though manslaughter is not considered as serious as murder, it is a crime that has severe penalties associated with it. The specific penalties differ significantly, depending on state laws and the circumstances of the crime.
Prison. A conviction for intoxication manslaughter can result in a lengthy prison sentence. In some states a 20 year prison sentence is possible, while others may provide for 10 years or more. (Texas makes intoxication manslaughter a second degree felony, which carries two to 20 years' imprisonment.) States (including Texas) also often have mandatory minimums associated with intoxication manslaughter charges. This means, for example, that if you are sentenced to 20 years in prison you may have to serve at least 2 years before you are eligible for release on parole.
Fines. Being convicted of an intoxication manslaughter crime will also result in significant fines. State laws differ, but fines of $10,000 or more are possible. (Texas provides for a fine of up to $10,000.)
Community Service. A conviction of intoxication manslaughter in Texas will also bring a mandatory community service penalty. The law provides that you must serve at least 240 hours of community service, but a court can impose up to an 800 hour sentence at its discretion. The community service must be served in addition to any fines or prison time.
(Texas Penal Code section 12.33.)
Talk to a Lawyer
Anyone in Texas or any other state who is facing a charge of intoxication manslaughter needs to speak to an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. Only an experienced attorney can properly evaluate your case, advise you as to your options, and protect your rights through every stage of the criminal justice process. Regardless of whether you think you are at fault, you need to speak to an attorney as soon as you are involved in an accident or investigated for a crime. A local attorney who has first-hand experience dealing with local police, prosecutors, and courts is the only person qualified to provide you with sound legal advice.