Legal Professional?
Build Your Business

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.

Convictions

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.

Criticism

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.

Sources

Associated Press