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Can a DUI That Results in Death be Charged as Murder?

Updated on November 1, 2022 → Under

Have you ever considered what could happen if you made the poor decision to drive while intoxicated? You may think it's no big deal and that nothing bad will come of it, but the reality is that driving under the influence can have severe consequences. In fact, DUI can even lead to murder charges.

You may be thinking, "How possible is that?" It's simple: if you are driving while impaired and end up causing a fatal accident, you can be charged with vehicular homicide or even murder.

In this article, we'll discuss all you need to know about the consequences of drunk driving; how it can lead to murder charges, and what you can do if you or anyone you know is facing such charges.

When Can DUI be Charged as Murder?

First, let's take a look at what exactly counts as DUI. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or above is considered drunk driving and is against the law in all 50 states. If you are under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs, you can also face a DUI charge.

So, let's say you've had too much to drink at a party and decide to drive home. You're feeling fine and think you can handle it, but the truth is that alcohol impairs your judgment and reaction time. Your car swerves into oncoming traffic and collides with another vehicle, killing the driver.

In this scenario, not only would you face DUI charges, but you could also be charged with vehicular homicide ("Vehicular Manslaughter") or even murder if it's determined that your actions were reckless and showed a conscious disregard for human life.

Consequently, DUI can be charged as murder if the impaired driver's actions resulted in the death of another person and it can be proven that they consciously disregarded the risks involved. It is important to know that this applies even if the death was not intentional. If you were too drunk to realize the seriousness of your actions, it does not matter. The law holds you accountable for the outcome of your reckless behavior ("criminal negligence").

man sitting at bar with beer and car keys, DUI That Results in Death be Charged as Murder

FAQ: What does a DUI lawyer do for my case?

Common Factors to Determine a DUI Charge

There are common factors that can increase the possibility of a DUI charge being upgraded to murder. These include:

  • Prior DUI convictions
  • Exceeding the speed limit or reckless driving
  • Presence of minors in the vehicle
  • A high blood alcohol content (BAC) level
  • Any evidence of intentionally trying to harm someone

If any of these essential factors are present, it is more likely that a DUI charge will be upgraded to murder.

What Are Some Common Defenses?

The common defenses to DUI-related murder are discussed as follows:

  1. The person was not actually driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. This defense may work if there is evidence suggesting that someone else was driving, such as an eyewitness or surveillance footage.
  2. At the time of the accident, the person was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This defense may work if there is evidence suggesting that the defendant's Blood Alcoholic Content ("BAC") level was below the legal limit or if a drug test shows no presence of drugs in the system. Or in some instances, the sugar content in their blood may have been misinterpreted as alcohol. If the driver is under the influence of drugs, the blood alcohol level doesn't matter.
  3. The defendant's actions did not cause the death. This defense may work if there is evidence suggesting that something else, such as a mechanical issue with the vehicle or another person's actions, or bad weather conditions caused the driving accident and resulting death.

How Does a Prosecutor Prove DUI Murder?

Importantly, for a DUI charge to be upgraded to murder as against second-degree murder charges, there are fundamental elements that must be sufficiently established. Failure to prove these elements - beyond a reasonable doubt - would result in the charge being reduced back to a DUI.

First, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was driving or in actual control of the vehicle at the time of the incident. This includes proving that they were operating the car or had the ability to operate it, even if they were not actually driving at the moment.

Second, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident. This can be established through testimony from police officers, toxicology reports, and eyewitness accounts.

Third, it must be proven that the defendant's actions directly caused the death of another person. This may require the testimony of medical professionals, accident reconstructionists, or eyewitnesses in addition to other types of expert evidence.

Finally, it must be proven that the defendant consciously disregarded the risks involved in their actions and showed a wanton disregard for human life. This can be established through evidence such as prior DUI convictions, excessive speed or reckless driving, the presence of minors in the vehicle, and a high BAC level.

It is important to note that each state has its own specific laws and penalties for DUI murder charges, as opposed to the criteria for murder. A conviction for DUI murder in the majority of states can result in sentences as well as substantial fines. It may also result in the revocation or loss of driving privileges and mandatory forms of counseling or treatment programs.

It is important to consult with an experienced defense attorney who can provide the best defense against charges of DUI murder, just as it is important to do so with any other type of criminal charge. The legal consequences of a conviction can be severe, and it is crucial to ensure that all legal rights are protected during the process.

person after being hit by a drunk driver, DUI That Results in Death be Charged as Murder

FAQ: What is an aggravated DUI in Illinois?

The Penalties for DUI Murder in Illinois

Ordinarily in Illinois, the penalty for driving under the influence - often charged as a class 2 felony - is imprisonment between 2 to 7 years. However, where such intoxicated driving results in the death of another, the charge may be escalated to aggressive driving under the influence resulting in death. This carries a sentence of between 14 to 28 prison time. It should be noted that in Illinois, there is no life in prison ("life sentence") for DUI murder charges or DUI-related killings caused by intoxicated driving or impaired driving.

Final Thoughts

The harsh consequences of DUI, including the potential for murder charges, should never be taken lightly. It is always best to make responsible decisions and avoid getting behind the wheel while impaired. Don't risk it – choose a designated driver or call a taxi or rideshare service instead. Your life, as well as the lives of those around you, are dependent on it. However, if you find yourself facing DUI murder charges, it is important to seek the assistance of a skilled DUI defense attorney at Dohman Law Group today. They may be able to help ensure that all of your rights are protected throughout the process.

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