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Death Due to DUI DWI

Driving under the influence, also referred to as DUI or DWI, is a serious crime. Not only does it pose a danger to the drunk driver, it also poses danger to everyone else on the road. Typically, a first-time offense is counted as a misdemeanor, but in some circumstances, such as when a DUI or DWI results in death, it may be a felony.

Vehicular Homicide

When you inadvertently cause someone's death due to a DUI or DWI, you can expect to be charged with vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide is defined in most jurisdictions as a homicide caused by a drunk driver killing someone with his or her car.

Different states will have different burdens of proof for proving vehicular homicide. In some states, the prosecution-the party in charge of proving your guilt-must show that you were intoxicated (as defined under state law) at the time the accident occurred. However, other states only require the prosecution to show that alcohol was a proximate cause of the death. Proximate cause means that alcohol consumption, although not the only factor causing the accident and the death, was a contributing factor.

Different jurisdictions will classify vehicular homicide in different ways. Part of this may be influenced by the law in those areas, while part of this may be due to the circumstances of the accident.

A court may also define vehicular homicide as:

  • Murder: The act of murder requires malice, which means an intent to cause harm. Some jurisdictions may classify a DUI or DWI death as murder.
  • Manslaughter: Manslaughter usually refers to a death caused by extreme negligence. This means that your reckless behavior and disregard for others' safety contributed to the accident.
  • Criminally Negligent Homicide: This is a lesser offense than murder or manslaughter. Some jurisdictions use this charge, which means you caused another's death by driving a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner.

Engaging an Attorney

After you are placed under arrest for vehicular homicide, you will want to exercise your constitutional rights to silence and to an attorney.

Under the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to remain silent when placed under arrest. This means that you do not have to answer any police or investigator questions. This right is intended to keep you from accidentally incriminating yourself. It is to your benefit to not speak to police or answer any questions without your attorney present.

Another right afforded to you under the Constitution is your right to an attorney. Once you are taken into custody for your DUI or DWI accident, you will have the opportunity to contact a drunk driving attorney. You should exercise this right. The sooner you have your attorney present, the sooner your attorney can start collecting evidence and building a defense for you.

If you cannot afford an attorney, you can exercise your right to have one appointed to you. This type of attorney is known as a public defender. Because of the seriousness of vehicular homicide, you will want to exercise this right if you cannot afford to hire an attorney.

Questions to Answer in DUI DWI Death Cases

There are several key questions that your attorney, the prosecution, and the police will try to answer to prove your guilt or lack of guilt in a vehicular homicide. These questions include:

  • Were you the driver of the vehicle that caused the DUI DWI death?
  • Were you under the influence of alcohol at the time the accident occurred?
  • Did your consumption of alcohol cause the accident or were there other factors?
  • Could there be shared liability? In other words, did the passengers in the car provide the driver with alcohol or was the driver over-served at a social gathering?
  • If the accident was a hit and run, was it your car that caused the accident?
  • Types of Evidence in DUI DWI Death Cases

    The prosecution will attempt to collect evidence to prove your guilt, while your attorney, the defense attorney, will attempt to collect evidence to either prove your innocence or prove to the jury that there is doubt of your guilt. After all, the jury in vehicular homicide cases must convict you beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The type of evidence both parties may attempt to collect includes:

    • Photos of the crime scene and the vehicles involved in the accident
    • Identification of those involved in the accident, including the alleged drunk driver and the victim or victims
    • Expert testimony from experts on car accidents
    • Witness testimony if there were witnesses
    • Copies of police reports detailing the crime scene

    Punishment for Vehicular Homicide

    The punishment for causing someone's death due to DUI or DWI varies from state to state and situation to situation. Sometimes the crime is a misdemeanor, while at other times it may be a felony.

    Possible punishments for vehicular homicide include:

    • A prison sentence ranging anywhere from less than a year to several decades
    • Fines
    • Mandatory DUI class
    • Driver's license suspension