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Fatal DUI Crashes Resulting in More Murder Prosecutions

Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) continue to increase in severity. The latest trend? Charging repeat offenders with second-degree murder. In 1981, the California Supreme Court ruled that DUI, which shows a conscious disregard for human life, meets the malice requirement for a murder prosecution.


In 2004, California started advising drivers who were convicted of DUI that they could be the subject of a murder prosecution if they were involved in another drunk driving accident where someone was killed. Orange County has operated a special unit to prosecute vehicular homicides since 2008. Not surprisingly, 99 percent of these deaths are alcohol-related. In the past two years, 11 defendants have been convicted of murder for fatal DUI accidents.

California is not alone in this regard. A New York court convicted a repeat DUI defendant for murder because of a collision causing the decapitation of a seven-year-old flower girl on her way home from a wedding. Juries have considered guilty verdicts in DUI/homicide cases in Alaska and Missouri as well. Homicide convictions result in longer prison sentences than lesser vehicular manslaughter cases. A recent defendant convicted of vehicular homicide in California faces a prison term of 50 years to life imprisonment.


The murder prosecutions have drawn criticism from DUI defense attorneys. They question whether driving a vehicle while drunk, even repeatedly, satisfies the legal definition of malice, which is required for a murder conviction. They also criticize the California practice of having DUI offenders sign papers confirming that they were advised they could be prosecuted for murder if involved in a subsequent, fatal DUI accident. Defense attorneys argue that a defendant can not contractually agree to a later prosecution for an offense which has not yet happened.

Prosecutors counter that they require more for a murder charge than just a prior DUI conviction. For example, one such prosecution was of a Marine officer, who despite being intoxicated, ordered a lower-ranking officer to return his keys, despite his comrades begging him not to drive.

If you are involved in a DUI accident, you should immediately consult a competent DUI attorney regardless of the severity of the accident. If the case involves a fatality, you could be looking at substantial jail time and need timely, effective legal advice.


Associated Press