If you are charged in Oklahoma for having committed a crime that resulted in the death of someone, under the legal definition of homicide you can find yourself being prosecuted along two basic paths: intentional homicide (that is, murder), or negligent homicide, which is also known as manslaughter.
If the death of the other person was in connection with your driving of a vehicle while you were allegedly intoxicated, this situation will almost invariably take you down the manslaughter path (unless you purposefully ran into another person or vehicle). There are different degrees of manslaughter; those involving DUI are considered to be first degree manslaughter.
Elements of the charge
From a legal perspective, the state will need to prove a first degree manslaughter case by establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that all of the following took place:
A person died;
- The death was the result of behavior that constituted a misdemeanor (note that in Oklahoma, a first-time DUI conviction is a misdemeanor crime); and
- You were in fact committing the misdemeanor crime when the death took place.
With regard to the second and third of the elements above, some clarifications are in order:
- There are two different crimes that you can be charged with if someone dies as a result of your alleged driving behavior. “Negligent homicide” can be the charge against you if your driving was purportedly reckless in nature (that is, your behavior exhibited a knowing disregard for the lives and safety of others); first-degree manslaughter, on the other hand does not rely on your mental state (and this is where the vast majority of DUI-related homicides will fall).
- The death of the other person must be “proximately caused” by the misdemeanor crime of which you have been accused. This will not usually be a problem for the prosecution to show if it can demonstrate that you were guilty of a DUI offense at the time of the accident.
Note that although you may hear references in news stories and elsewhere to a charge of “DUI Manslaughter”, this is not a specific crime under Oklahoma law. Rather, the charge of drunk driving is the prerequisite misdemeanor crime that the state must allege to pursue a first-degree Manslaughter charge in the event that someone dies as a direct and proximate cause of the DUI.
Penalties for conviction
Conviction for first degree manslaughter is a felony. Courts operate under the following guidelines when imposing a sentence:
- The minimum prison sentence is four years in a state prison up to life
- If you have already had a DUI conviction or deferred sentence on a DUI within the previous ten years prior to allegations leading to the new charge, the State scan you you with felony murder Murder II
If you have been accused of first-degree Manslaughter or Murder II in connection with a DUI charge, it is imperative that you retain legal counsel experienced with drunk driving defense as soon as possible. Even the minimum four-year sentence for a first-time conviction can have a decidedly negative impact on your life, and the additional ramifications of a felony conviction can have an impact on you for much longer than that.