Will California See Harsher Punishments For DUI Homicides?


Law enforcement and government agencies believe that it is important to educate the public about DUIs. By explaining the dangers of impaired driving, it will help make people think twice about getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol or using any drugs.

In previous articles, we have talked about DUI grant money from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and about their campaigns to spread the word. There are various efforts around the country to inform people and dissuade them from driving under the influence. But, according to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, the number of DUI homicides has been steady the last three years, perhaps even increasing.

Setting aside any thoughts about whether or not the campaigns are effective, we should also consider how the DA’s office handles the prosecution and its categorization of the crimes.

If there is a death linked to a DUI-related accident, then possible DUI charges include second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, so it can be considered the lightest of the three punishments. It is also typically a result of negligence. Gross vehicular manslaughter goes a step further as it is either a reckless act that goes beyond “ordinary negligence,” or if the accused has two ore more prior DUI misdemeanors. Second-degree murder is charged if the defendant had “malice aforethought,” meaning that they were aware they were impaired but still decided to drive. In this case, the defendant didn’t care enough about the consequences of driving impaired nor their ability to hurt others.

Malice aforethought doesn’t need a particular motive – one doesn’t need to target any specific person to be in this situation. With this in mind, prosecutors can crack down on the idea that with so many ads and public notices about the dangers of DUI, the public should be aware of the consequences. It would be safe to say that each and every one of us should be conscientious enough to decide not to drive impaired.

In the past, California prosecutors have used the issuance of a California driver’s license as proof that there was malicious aforethought because a person has to acknowledge when getting one that criminal charges are possible if one drives under the influence. So, if you are involved in an accident that causes injury or death shortly after driving under a lighted sign that reads “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving,” is that enough to prove malice aforethought?

Currently, there are no new legislation in the works that would change any of the penalties or parameters surrounding DUI homicides. However, if the scope of DUI campaigns continues its trajectory, it may become harder for defense attorneys to convince a jury that the defendant was within “ordinary negligence” parameters and doesn’t fit the definition of “malice aforethought”.

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