Texas takes driving while intoxicated (DWI) very seriously and reducing the number of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault cases is the primary goal for most of Texas’ DWI laws. If you find yourself charged with intoxication manslaughter in Houston, you can bet that prosecutors will seek the maximum sentence for your case. Texas’ intoxication manslaughter penalties include state prison time, license suspension and hefty fines. You need to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will aggressively defend your rights. You need to call the expert intoxication manslaughter attorneys at Blass Law or request a case evaluation online.
What is DUI Manslaughter in Texas?
While many states refer to the act of killing someone while driving under the influence as DUI manslaughter, Texas refers to that charge as intoxication manslaughter. An intoxication manslaughter or DUI manslaughter charge means that an accident caused by a person driving (or operating a boat, airplane, or amusement ride), while legally intoxicated caused the death of another person. If convicted, the punishment for driving drunk and killing someone can mean up to 20 years in prison, a $10,000 fine and felony record.
Texas law defines intoxication in Title 10, chapter 49 of the Texas Penal Code as “(A) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or (B) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.”
The Texas statute criminalizing Intoxication Manslaughter states that “A person commits this offense if the person: (1) operates a motor vehicle in a public place, operates an aircraft, a watercraft, or an amusement ride, or assembles a mobile amusement ride; and (2) is intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.”
What is the Difference Between Intoxication Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter?
All criminal offenses have elements a prosecutor must prove in order to secure a conviction. The term “elements” refers to exactly each fact the prosecution must prove in order to get a conviction. One fact, or element, is not enough. The prosecution must prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.
Intoxication manslaughter or DUI Manslaughter
Elements of intoxication manslaughter are:
- A person operates a vehicle in a public place.
- The person is intoxicated.
- By reason of that intoxication causes the death of another.
- The death was an accident or mistake.
Elements of manslaughter are:
- A person acts recklessly.
- The reckless conduct causes the death of another.
Reckless conduct is defined in the Texas Penal Code, Section 6.03
“A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”
Criminally Negligent Homicide
Elements of criminally negligent homicide:
- A person acts with criminal negligence.
- The criminally negligent conduct causes the death of another.
Criminal negligence is defined in the Texas Penal Code, Section 6.03
“A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.”
Intoxication Manslaughter Penalties
Intoxication manslaughter is a serious offense and the penalties for conviction are severe. As a second-degree felony, an intoxication manslaughter sentence can include:
- Prison sentence between 2 and 20 years
- Fine up to $10,000 (not including lawyer and court fees and other DWI costs)
- Ignition interlock device
- Suspended driver’s license between 180 days-2 years
- Community service between 240-800 hours
- Permanent felony conviction
For intoxication manslaughter, if more than one person died, you can be charged with one count for every person who lost his or her life. For example, if your intoxication caused three people to die in a car accident, you can be charged with three counts of intoxication manslaughter. Each conviction for intoxication manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 20 years. This means if you are convicted of three counts of intoxication manslaughter, you could be facing up to 60 years in prison. However, this would only happen if the judge decides to stack the sentences. In this scenario, stack means making the sentences for all three convictions run consecutively, not concurrent. This is unlikely but possible.
In addition, if the prosecution alleges and proves that your vehicle was used as a “deadly weapon,” this is an enhancement making the offense aggravated. If you are convicted of an aggravated offense and sentenced to prison, you are not eligible for parole until you have served half of your prison sentence. This means the parole board will not even review the file until you have served half of the sentence. The prosecution does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the vehicle was being used as a deadly weapon. It only takes an affirmative finding by the judge to subject you to this enhanced penalty.
With an experienced Houston intoxication manslaughter lawyer, you may get a probation sentence, but you still must serve 120 days. While a probation sentence is better than a long prison sentence, you will still be required to pay fines, court fees, and monthly probation fees. Any probation violation can result in having a motion to revoke probation filed and your probation could be revoked, meaning you have to complete the sentence in prison.
Intoxication Manslaughter Enhanced Penalties
An intoxication manslaughter offense becomes a first-degree felony if any one of the following applies.
- The person killed was emergency medical services personnel or a firefighter “in the actual discharge of an official duty.”
- The person killed was a peace officer or judge while the peace officer or judge “was in the actual discharge of an official duty.”
A first-degree felony carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison with a maximum of 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Intoxication Manslaughter Defense Strategies
You are likely feeling so bad that a person died in the car crash you were involved in that you do not think about your own future and whether or not there are defenses to the charges. But consider that a conviction not only means the loss of your freedom, your driver’s license, and a hefty fine, it may also mean the loss of any professional license you have, whether as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, real estate broker, or others. You will not be the only one to suffer – your family will also suffer.
In addition, you will have a permanent felony criminal record and be unable to vote even when you are released. Some jobs may never be open to you. There is so much at stake, you really need to plan a defense with the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Challenge to BAC tests
Acceptable tests for measuring your BAC include a breath test using a Breathalyzer machine, a blood test using a gas chromatograph, or a urine test. Each test must be administered and analyzed correctly.
For just one example, a Breathalyzer test must be administered only by a certified breath test operator, a law enforcement officer who has been specifically trained and certified to administer the test. The machine must be properly calibrated with administrative logs kept verifying the date of the last calibration. A proper fifteen minute observation period must be conducted ensuring no foreign objects were introduced into the mouth of the defendant. If the protocols were not followed, the results can be challenged as inadmissible in court. Even if the protocols were followed, there is still a risk of a false positive.
Challenge to your intoxication being the cause of death
As mentioned above, in order for the intoxication manslaughter statute to apply, it must be proved that the intoxication was the cause of the other person’s death. Texas Penal Code, section 6.04(a) states that “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.”
That means that while you may have been driving under the influence and been involved in an accident that resulted in another person’s death, you may not be guilty of intoxication manslaughter. For instance, if another person caused the accident and your intoxication did not contribute to the resulting death, you’re not guilty.
Each case will depend on the unique applicable facts. For example, if you are driving the speed limit through a green light and another car blows through a red light, smashing into your vehicle and causing the death of the driver, your intoxication did not cause the death of the other driver.
Contact a Houston Intoxication Manslaughter Attorney
Texas takes intoxication manslaughter charges seriously and you can bet the prosecution will try to get the maximum sentence possible. Don’t attempt to defend yourself with underqualified and inexperienced attorneys. Call Blass Law or send us a message. Let our team of intoxication manslaughter defense attorneys get you the best possible outcome for your case.