Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in Texas is a very serious offense. However, if your intoxication caused the death of another person, you may be facing an intoxication manslaughter charge. The consequences for these charges can be severe and life-altering. It is important to know what you are up against and understand how to attack these charges head on.
What is Intoxication Manslaughter?
Intoxication manslaughter is defined under the Texas Penal Code, section 49.08. Basically, a person commits this offense if they are operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, and that intoxication causes the death of another by either accident or mistake.
An intoxication manslaughter charge is different than a murder charge because there is no intent to cause death. Intoxication manslaughter does not require that a person had any intention of killing someone. The essential element of the offense is that someone was killed due to the DWI accident.
What is the Difference Between Intoxication Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter?
Vehicular manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter are very similar in that they both involve death by vehicle. However, intoxication manslaughter is committed when the accused driver is also intoxicated by drugs and/or alcohol. Vehicular manslaughter involves death caused by driving dangerously or recklessly. Like intoxication manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter does not require a specific mental state—only that someone be killed as a result of the reckless driving.
What are the Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas?
Intoxication manslaughter punishments are much more severe than a regular DWI. In Texas, intoxication manslaughter is classified as a second degree felony, punishable by 2-20 years in prison and/or up to a $10,000.00 fine.
In addition to these penalties, a conviction for intoxication manslaughter means you will be a felon. Thus, the collateral consequences for this crime can be just as severe as the punishment itself. They include:
- Driver’s license suspension
- Inability to own a gun
- Difficulty finding work
- Difficulty finding housing
- Ineligible to run for public office
While the outcome for an intoxication manslaughter case may seem grim, with the right representation, it is possible to beat your case.
Intoxication Manslaughter Investigations
Intoxication manslaughter charges are often the result of a severe accident. Consequently, the ensuing investigation by police officers may look a bit different from that of a regular DWI. If you are injured or in the hospital, officers will still do their best to gather information and ascertain whether alcohol played a role in the crash. They will speak with you to determine if there is an odor of alcohol emitting from your breath. They may try to ask if you were coming from a bar, and if you had anything to drink. Remember, that you are fully within your rights to not answer any of these questions. If the officer suspects that you were drinking prior to the accident, he will likely request a blood sample. If you do not consent, then the officer must obtain a warrant evidenced by probable cause. Again, you are fully within your rights to refuse to give a blood specimen. If police are unable to take your blood on the night of the accident, they can always obtain a grand jury subpoena to get your medical records, and those will show your blood alcohol content.
If your injuries are not life-threatening, a police officer typically attempts to administer the standard-field sobriety tests (SFSTs). These include the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, the walk and turn test, and the one leg stand test. They will ask you questions such as, where are you coming from? And, how much have you had to drink? You will also be asked to consent to the taking of a blood sample.
How to Beat an Intoxication Manslaughter Charge in Texas
One of the most critical elements in an intoxication manslaughter case is that the intoxication causes the death of another. The state must prove that your intoxication was directly responsible for another person’s death. In legal terms, this is called proximate cause. The intoxication must be the direct (proximate) cause of the death.
For example, after going to the bar and having a couple drinks you decide to drive home. While driving, you blow right through a red light and hit another vehicle. The state would be able to argue that your intoxication was the direct result of the accident that caused any death or injuries. Put another way, had you not been intoxicated, the accident would not have occurred.
Say however, that you were driving home after a few beers and this time you stop at the red light. Once the light turns green you drive through the intersection but another vehicle disregards their red light and hits you. In this scenario, your intoxication would not be the direct cause of any subsequent death or injuries. While you might still be guilty of DWI, in this scenario the other person is legally responsible for the accident and ultimately, their own death.
As illustrated in the examples above, you can see that challenging the proximate cause element in an intoxication manslaughter offense is essential to beating the charge.
Another way in which these charges can be beat is to contest the intoxication element itself. Prosecutors must prove that you were actually intoxicated at the time of the accident in order to successfully convict you of intoxication manslaughter. But by using scientific principles and Texas’ “Time of Driving” rules, your attorney can establish reasonable doubt as to whether you were actually intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Charged with Intoxication Manslaughter? Your Next Steps
Being charged with intoxication manslaughter is both terrifying and life-altering. The most important thing you can do for yourself is obtain an experienced attorney to help you navigate the treacherous road that lies ahead.
Mehr Singh possesses the expertise necessary to defend those accused of intoxication manslaughter. He uses science, aggressive tactics, and strong DWI expertise to secure the best possible outcome for each and every client facing these charges. Contact him today to schedule your free consultation.