It is not unusual to read of an automobile fatality where one of the participants is charged with manslaughter. A recent example, this one from Arizona, occurred this month.
Police say the driver of a vehicle rear-ended an SUV, which led to the death of the SUV driver. Authorities claim the first vehicle was speeding, and that preliminary tests show the blood alcohol content of the driver was more than three times the legal limit of 0.08. She has now been charged, according to the article we read, with “reckless manslaughter.”
Manslaughter falls within the broader category of homicide. Homicide, in turn, includes murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. Depending upon the particular state you are in, a DUI resulting in a fatality could be termed vehicular manslaughter, gross vehicular manslaughter, or reckless homicide, among other possible charges. The important aspect of these charges is not so much the particular nomenclature of the jurisdiction where the charge is filed, but rather the classification of the charge, and the potential penalty associated with it.
In Arizona, where the crash took place and where the charges were filed in the case, possible homicide offenses involving an automobile include negligent homicide (basically, gross negligence involving a substantial risk of death); manslaughter (recklessly causing death, among others), and even, in some cases, second degree murder (for example, reckless behavior which shows an extreme indifference to human life).
As far as penalties go, homicide is one of the most serious crimes, and it is treated accordingly. Again, in Arizona, while manslaughter doesn’t sound nearly as bad as murder, it is, nevertheless, a class 2 felony. The presumptive sentence for a class 2 felony is five years in prison.
Of course, as in all such cases, the prosecution will be required to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. In this situation, that will include proving the reckless or other wrongful act on the part of the defendant (for example, driving under the influence, speeding, etc.), and also a causal connection between that act and the death of the victim. Being under the influence, standing alone, is not enough to sustain a guilty verdict on the manslaughter charge.
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Phoenix, AZ 85004