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What Happens During A DUI If A Death Results?

  • By: Ronald D. Hedding
  • Published: November 1, 2018

These DUI cases where death occurs because an individual drinks and drives and gets in an accident and kills either their passenger or some other driver or the passenger of another driver.

The prosecutors now in Los Angeles — and I’ve been doing these cases for twenty-five years — it used to be they would wait and see if they could prove that the person knew that it was dangerous to drink and drive and a death could result, and that usually had to do with them having a prior DUI, doing the DUI classes or them finding some other evidence that they knew that this could happen, that it was foreseeable.

Second-Degree Murder Charges

Now, they just skip that. If someone is drinking and driving and a death results, that person is typically going to be charged with second degree murder.

The prosecutors figure that everybody now knows that drinking and driving can cause a death because of social media and all of the attention Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the news media has put on drinking and driving and deaths.

Yet still, when somebody is in court and they plead guilty to a DUI, they’re told that if they continue to drink and drive and, in the future, they get in an accident, they can be charged with second degree murder.

Really what this is doing with these DUI’s and deaths is normally for murder, we need some sort of malice. You have to harbor some ill will. You have to decide to kill somebody. But when these DUI cases come along, the malice is going to be implied when you act in a wanton and reckless manner. In other words, you drink, you drive. You know that somebody could die, yet you do it anyway, and a horrible accident result.

Now, a lot of these cases the prosecutors will negotiate them down below a murder case and allow the person to get what’s called a “determinative sentence,” when they actually known when they’re going to get out of prison. While other cases, depending on the severity of it, the actions of the defendant, they will not move on the murder case and they tell the person they have to plead to a murder charge.

Vehicular Manslaughter Jury Trial

A lot of times these cases go to trial and the jury is going to have to decide whether or not you have a vehicular manslaughter charge or somebody was negligent and an individual died or whether it’s that wanton disregard for human life that is occurring and they end up finding them guilty of murder.

Then a judge in these drinking and driving cases in Los Angeles when the person is found guilty of murder by a jury, has no choice but to sentence that person to a minimum of fifteen to life in prison. That’s a situation where they have to serve fifteen years, and once they’ve done that, then they’re eligible for parole. They might never get out depending on how the parole department feels about the crime, the particular individuals and the victims of that particular crime.

So, needless to say, I’m sure you can see from what I’m saying here, and I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years and have handled thousands of DUI cases across Los Angeles — many murder cases where someone is racing or drinking and driving and they get charged with a murder charge, so I know what the standard is.

I have a good feel for the political landscape of the District Attorney’s office and I saw that shift a few years ago where they just started filing all of these DUI-related deaths as murder cases. I’ve talked to some of the higher-up prosecutors and they say it is our policy now.

Drink and drive, kill somebody — you’re going to get charged with murder and then you’re going to be begging to try to get a vehicular manslaughter or some other charge that doesn’t carry that fifteen to life.

So, if you’ve got one of these cases, you have to get in front of a criminal defense attorney who has handled these drinking and driving death cases, knows how to mitigate them and knows how to defend them.

Mitigating Circumstances to Avoid Murder Charges

Sometimes there’s a defense. Other times you really don’t have a good defense, but you have some good mitigating circumstance sand we can convince the prosecutors and even the judge, to not give you that murder charge, not sentence you to fifteen to life and work-out some other resolutions that makes sense for who you are and what actually happened out there.

There’s a lot of different factors that go into these DUI-related death cases and the best judge of that is a DUI defense attorney who has been doing it a long time, knows the local court system, knows the prosecutor’s tendency in the court where your case is pending and knows how to handle these cases — knows how to maneuver them through a politically-charged, sometimes bureaucratic criminal justice system.

Make the phone call today. Let’s sit down. We’ll go over your case and we’ll start making the right moves to get you in the best possible position.

Ronald D. Hedding

About the Author Named Top Los Angeles DUI Defence Attorney by LA Times and named one
of the Top 100 DUI Defence attorneys in California by the National Trial
Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.