In Virginia, you can be charged with DUI involuntary manslaughter if you drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or some other intoxicant and cause the death of another person. A conviction may come with significant penalties, including fines and substantial prison time.
The Law: DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another human being that is unintentional and is not premeditated. DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter is found in Virginia Code § 18.2-36.1. A person is guilty of DUI involuntary manslaughter if, as a result of driving under the influence, the person unintentionally causes the death of another person.
What the Commonwealth Must Prove
The Commonwealth of Virginia has the burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you are guilty of all of the elements of the crime of DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter. The Commonwealth must prove that the driver:
- was driving while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both; and
- unintentionally caused the death of another human being.
Driving While Under the Influence
The Commonwealth can prove that a driver was under the influence in a number of ways. During DUI arrests and investigations, chemical breath and/or blood tests may demonstrate the existence of an intoxicant and the level of concentration of that intoxicant. The Commonwealth may introduce evidence of the presence of drugs in your system or evidence that your Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) was above the legal limit.
Under the statute, a person is "under the influence" when impairment is observable in the driver's "manner, disposition, speech, muscular movement, general appearance or behavior." This means that the Commonwealth does not need to prove a specific level of drugs or alcohol in the driver's blood to make a presumption of intoxication. The prosecutor in the case may also present evidence of:
- Slurred speech
- Bloodshot or glassy eyes
- A driver's admissions of drug or alcohol use
- Inability to perform on field sobriety tests
- Suspicious driving behaviors (marked lane violations, erratic driving)
Unintentionally Caused the Death of Another
The Commonwealth must next prove that the driver unintentionally caused the death of another person as a proximate result of the offense of driving under the influence. It is insufficient to show that the driver was simply intoxicated, rather, the Commonwealth must prove that the death was a result of the intoxicating effect of drugs or alcohol on the driver.
It is required that the Commonwealth prove all of the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to do so may result in lesser charges or even an acquittal at trial.
Other Homicide Charges
Under the DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter law, the Commonwealth is not precluded from pursuing prosecution under any other homicide statute. It is important to have an experienced criminal attorney represent you to help prevent increased homicide charges.
In Virginia, you can be charged for both the underlying DUI offense and the DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter charges.
Penalties for DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter
The consequences of a DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter charge are serious, and can greatly affect your life. The specific consequences and conviction depend on the unique facts of your case. The offense is a Class 5 felony in Virginia, and the possible penalties include:
- A sentence of a minimum of one year up to a maximum of ten years in prison;
- A possible fine of up to $2,500.00;
- Seizure and forfeiture of the vehicle used in the commission of the offense;
- The addition of six demerit points to the offenders Virginia driving record;
- Indefinite suspension of the offender's driver's license.
The specific prison sentence you may face is subject to complex factual determinations. Factors such as criminal history, the level of intoxication, good behavior while in custody, and other determinations may affect the total prison sentence.
If convicted of the offense, your driver's license will be revoked indefinitely. You can petition for a restricted driver's license three years following the date of your conviction, and petition for full restoration of your driving privileges after at least five years from the date of your conviction. While you may petition for these rights, it is up to the individual discretion of the judge whether to grant restoration of your privileges.
Possible Civil Penalties
A person charged with DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter may also be subject to a civil lawsuit under a wrongful death claim. These typically occur after the criminal trial and can occur whether you are convicted or acquitted.
Aggravated DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter
In Virginia, a charge of DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter may become aggravated when the driver's conduct was "so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life." Reckless disregard is commonly referred to as criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence is judged by determining whether the offender knew or should have known of the likely results of his or her actions. Such conduct is criminal when the driver knew or should have known of the risks his or her conduct (i.e. the likelihood of death) yet chose to act anyway. Driving under the influence is not, in and of itself, a sufficient criminal act to show a reckless disregard for human life. Proof that the offender drove in a reckless manner while intoxicated must also be presented.
If the Commonwealth can prove the aggravating factors of the charge, the driver can face enhanced penalties upon conviction. These include:
- A mandatory minimum of one year up to a maximum of twenty years in prison;
- Up to $2,500.00 in fines.
Consult an Experienced Attorney
If you have been charged with DUI Related Involuntary Manslaughter, there are very real and serious consequences which may arise from a conviction. Significant prison time and fines may result if the Commonwealth can prove its case.
To protect your rights, you need experienced Virginia attorney Bryan J. Jones to defend your case. Every case is unique, and just because you are charged with a crime does not mean you are guilty. Contact us today to schedule a consultation in your case.