The criminal offense of driving while intoxicated comes with severe penalties even when no accident occurs. However, when a crash results in the death of another person, the more serious felony offense of vehicular manslaughter can be charged. This charge could change the rest of your life. Penalties could include jail time, fines, loss of driving privileges and hundreds of hours of community service.
What is Intoxicated Manslaughter in Texas?
Intoxicated Manslaughter is different from regular manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter, which requires proof of a reckless act or reckless driving. The reckless act is established when the State proves that the driver was operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated. Therefore, law enforcement and prosecutors do not need to show any reckless driving. Simply being intoxicated and involved in an accident with a fatality does not mean that a person is guilty of Intoxication Manslaughter. The State of Texas must prove that the person was intoxicated and that the person’s intoxication was the cause of the other person’s death.
Punishment for Intoxicated Manslaughter in Texas
Intoxicated Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas, which carries a possible punishment of 2 to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Intoxicated Manslaughter prosecutors will often allege that the car or truck the person was driving was a “deadly weapon” making the crime a “3G” offense. Convictions for 3G offenses require that a person serve more time before becoming eligible for probation and precludes a judge from giving a person probation.
People who are intoxicated are drunk or high and lack the ability to use their normal mental or physical abilities. Alcohol and illegal drugs are the most common causes of intoxication, but it can also result from taking prescription medications or a combination of substances. Intoxication is measured in a variety of ways, including through the use of field sobriety tests, blood alcohol tests, and drug tests.
People can be legally intoxicated even if they don't feel drunk or high. For example, if you are driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit, .08, you are legally intoxicated even if you feel normal and do not believe you are impaired.
In order to prove intoxication, the State will focus on the driver’s appearance, the driver’s performance in Standard Field Sobriety Tests, and Chemical Test results (blood or breath tests). Paul fights to exclude the introduction of the field sobriety tests, blood alcohol tests and breath tests. These tests are unreliable and inherently unfair.
The driver's appearance: Law enforcement often will testify to observable symptoms of intoxication exhibited during the crash investigation. These clues can include red, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or other odd behavior. Although these are commonly cited signs of intoxication, these clues can also be explained by a variety of other factors such as allergies, illness, nervousness, exhaustion, or due to the accident the defendant was just involved in.
Standardized Field Sobriety Tests: Field sobriety tests were designed to help determine if suspects have greater blood alcohol concentrations than the legal limit. These exercises are designed to help ensure a person fails. After a significant vehicular accident, these tests are event more flawed. For example, maybe the driver would normally be able to perform these tests, but something unrelated to intoxication made it difficult or impossible to perform the exercises correctly, such as an injury from the crash.
Chemical test results: During an intoxication manslaughter investigation, the arresting officer will attempt to obtain either a breath test or a blood test. When another person is injured in the crash, the blood test is the most common type of test used. The tests are not 100 percent accurate, and results can vary due to a variety of factors. There are often errors in the way the blood was drawn, the evaluation of the alcohol concentration, or the search warrant obtained to draw your blood is invalid.
Voluntary Intoxication: Intoxication manslaughter crimes apply when a person kills someone else as a result of a voluntary state of intoxication. This means that if you are unknowingly given a drug that results in your becoming intoxicated, you are not culpable for the resulting death. However, if you use any drug or alcohol voluntarily, even if you didn't believe it would result in getting drunk or high, you are voluntarily intoxicated.Causation in Intoxicated Manslaughter Cases
Even if you are found intoxicated, the State has to prove that the person’s intoxication caused the death of another. The Texas Penal Code defines this as “(a) person is criminally responsible if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, operating either alone or concurrently with another cause, unless the concurrent cause was clearly sufficient to produce the result and the conduct of the actor clearly insufficient," according to Texas Penal Code Annotated § 6.04(a).
This “but for” cause is often the key issue in intoxicated manslaughter cases. It is important to attack investigator’s investigation and look reconstruct the accident to offer alternative theories. Further, your criminal lawyer should look into whether or not the other driver had any alcohol or controlled substances in his system, was the deceased wearing a seatbelt, or was that person texting and driving.
Intoxicated Manslaughter Experience
Paul spent years training prosecutors and police officers on how to conduct intoxication-related investigations. He taught prosecutors how to best present these cases to a jury. Paul was chosen to teach these members of law enforcement because of his knowledge in DWI law and crash reconstruction.
While Paul was a prosecutor, he was a member of the "Vehicular Assault Team". The Vehicle Assault Team is charged with determining whether or not to charge a person with a crime when they are involved in an accident involving serious injury or death. As a member of the team, Paul would respond to these accident scenes. Paul saw first-hand how the scenes were investigated. Many of these investigations are rushed and poorly done. Skid marks are often misinterpreted and at times attributed to the wrong vehicle. There are a number of other factors that go into an accident scene investigation and Paul's understands complicated factors that created a competent/incompetent investigation.