Murder v. Manslaughter in Oklahoma DUI Cases
Oklahomans charged with DUI after seriously hurting or killing someone while driving may wonder about the charges against them. Drivers may be charged with first degree manslaughter in DUI cases, and it is different than a murder charge.
What Is Murder Under the Law?
Murder (or as lawyers call it, homicide) involves “malice aforethought”. This means that a person who killed another person had the intent to seriously harm or kill, or had an extreme and reckless disregard for life. Drunk drivers or drivers under the influence of drugs are not charged with murder very often, usually because it is hard to show the specific intent to kill. Sometimes, a driver may be charged with “negligent homicide”, if the prosecutors think they can show an extreme and reckless disregard for others’ lives. But more often, if a drunk driver kills someone, prosecutors will pursue first degree manslaughter charges.
How Is Manslaughter Different than Murder in Oklahoma?
First degree manslaughter in DUI cases does not require showing an intent to kill or a reckless disregard for life. Instead, prosecutors only need to show that:
- Someone died;
- The death happened as the result of actions that are a misdemeanor (such as a first-time DUI); and
- The DUI driver was committing the misdemeanor when the death took place.
In other words, the death only needs to occur while the driver is impaired and operating a motor vehicle. The prosecutor does not have to show that the driver intended to kill anyone – it could be an accident.
Are There Any Defenses to Manslaughter?
Yes, in Oklahoma several defenses can be presented for DUI manslaughter. Lawyers may start by challenging the basis for the underlying misdemeanor. For example, someone may be able to show that he was not impaired under the law or that the testing showing alleged impairment was flawed.
If defenses are available, sometimes a lawyer can negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutor. The first degree manslaughter charge could be reduced, or the driver could receive a shorter sentence. Manslaughter charges are very serious and could carry lengthy prison time, so you should consult a criminal defense lawyer familiar with DUI if you are in this situation.
Have you been charged with a DUI in Oklahoma? Clint Patterson, Esq., of Patterson Law Firm, a former Tulsa prosecutor, uses his trial experience and expert-level knowledge of DUI science to defend drivers. He has the experience and the insight to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case. To schedule a case evaluation, visit Patterson Law Firm online or call Clint’s office at (918) 550-9175.