If you are facing DUI charges that resulted in a death, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. It’s important to remember that you have rights, and there are legal defenses available to you. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of consequences you may face and the possible defenses you may use to begin building your case.

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Murder happens when someone intends to kill another person. However, negligent vehicular homicide is called manslaughter.

Ordinary negligence is when someone fails to act with care for others. Gross negligence is “wanton conduct done with conscious or reckless disregard for the rights and safety of others.” Yancey v. Lea, 354 N.C. 48 (2001).

Manslaughter is not murder because, as an intoxicated driver, you did not mean to kill anyone. However, you may be guilty of negligent or grossly negligent behavior.

In the Tar Heel State, you can face manslaughter charges in three distinct ways:

  • Involuntary manslaughter:  If you unintentionally kill someone due to reckless or negligent behavior, you may face involuntary manslaughter charges. This can be proven if intoxication contributed to careless behavior or if your recklessness was a foreseeable result of your intoxication.
  • Voluntary manslaughter: If the prosecution can prove that you acted with malice and meant to kill someone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may face voluntary manslaughter charges. Intoxication can be used as a defense to show that you did not act with malice.
  • Vehicular manslaughter:  If the prosecution can prove that you were driving with a high blood alcohol concentration (BAC) when the accident occurred, you may face vehicular manslaughter charges. In NC, this can include a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as low as .08%

When a death occurs in an impaired driving incident, it can be difficult to know what to do next. However, if your impaired driving did not cause the death, you may be able to avoid a felony conviction.

How Does a Court Prove Felony Death by Vehicle?

In North Carolina, if you tragically cause another person’s death while operating a vehicle under the influence, you commit “felony death by vehicle.” This can bring Class D felony charges.

However, a court must prove that the death happened while you were driving impaired or intoxicated (DWI/DUI). The court must ALSO prove that your impaired driving caused the death.

With an experienced DWI attorney, you can often provide evidence that the death was not caused by your impairment or intoxication and avoid a criminal conviction. An attorney may also be able to prove that you were not driving impaired.

However, you can still face drunk driving charges and a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

Aggravated Felony Death by Vehicle

If you have a prior impaired driving conviction within seven years of your vehicular manslaughter charges, you could face aggravated charges. This is also a Class D felony. However, aggravated factors can add time to a prison sentence. (1)

According to NC Law, the factors that bring aggravated felony charges include all of the following:

  • Unintentionally caused the death of another person
  • Engaged in the offense of impaired driving, which is the proximate cause of death
  • Had a previous conviction involving impaired driving within seven years of the date of the offense.

Repeat Felony Death by Vehicle

A repeat death by felony charge is a Class B2 felony, which can bring severe penalties. (1)

For a conviction of felony death by vehicle, a court must prove that you committed the crime of death by felony or aggravated death by felony AND that you had a prior conviction of:

  • Death by felony
  • Aggravated death by felony
  • First- or second-degree murder involving impaired driving
  • Involuntary or voluntary manslaughter involving impaired driving

Possible Penalties for DUI Death by Vehicle

The legal system will not be forgiving if you face a DWI offense conviction in Wake County. You could face a wide range of penalties and consequences, making it absolutely essential that you find an experienced criminal defense team to represent your case.

Causing the death of another person from a blood alcohol content BAC above the legal limit can bring prison time, parole supervision, community service, and other fines and penalties.

Without experienced legal professionals, you may face additional penalties beyond prison time that include:

Permanent Criminal Record

A criminal record might affect job prospects and make finding an apartment lease difficult. Your record also appears on any background checks for volunteer positions or if someone else wants to learn more about you online. Personal record services online often display criminal records for paying customers. 

No Expungement

If convicted of DWI, it stays on your criminal record your entire life. The state of NC expunges many non-violent crimes, but DWI is not one of them. You must live with the conviction unless your defense team can successfully defend you in court.

Seizure and Forfeiture of Vehicles

In some cases, a law enforcement officer can immediately, at the scene, seize your car and charge you with a DWI. If convicted, the state keeps your vehicle and sells it for profit. If you are driving a friend’s vehicle, the police can still impound the car. Your friend will have a hassle trying to get it back.

Loss of Job and Professional Licensing

If you are a commercial, school, activity, or childcare driver, your first DWI can disqualify you from driving commercially for a year or more. So you can lose your job!

You can also lose professional licenses such as dental or legal.

Driver’s License Revocation

The DMV can revoke your driver’s license for one year with a drunk driving charge. A second conviction can bring loss of your license for four years. You can also face permanent revocation of your driver’s license.

Prison Sentences for DWI/DUI-Related Killings

Vehicular homicide charges in North Carolina are taken seriously and dealt with severely. Your sentence will be based on your past criminal activity, amongst other factors.

However, some of the possible prison sentences include:

  • Death by vehicle: Up to 160 months in prison and permanent driver’s license revocation.
  • Aggravated death by vehicle: Up to 160 months in prison and permanent driver’s license revocation.
  • Repeat Death by vehicle: Up to 393 months in prison and permanent driver’s license revocation. (2)

You could also be required to attend alcohol education classes, community service, or other mandatory programs.

No matter the circumstances of your DWI or DUI death by vehicle charge, having an experienced legal team in your corner is essential!

Defenses to Felony Death by Vehicle Charges

If you are facing vehicular manslaughter charges, it can be intimidating. However, with someone’s death involved, driving under the influence becomes more than just a DWI/ DUI charge. You can face a DWI/ DUI vehicular homicide charge in a DUI-related killing. This type of negligent homicide is hard to defend, so you only want the best DWI/ DUI defense attorney you can find.

Proving DUI offenses can help you avoid manslaughter charges related to negligent vehicular manslaughter. Even with a prior DUI conviction, it is possible to use DUI statutes in your favor if you can defend your driving drunk charge. According to our state law, you can also avoid implied malice charges by proving intoxication at the time of your accident.

Because the laws surrounding these types of criminal charges are so complex, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced DWI/ DUI attorney to avoid the maximum felony-level convictions! DWI/ DUI manslaughter is not a simple case to defend, so you’ll need someone who understands NC law surrounding a DWI/ DUI accident.

Our Experienced DWI/ DUI Attorneys Can Help

At Cape Fear Law, we understand the value of your human life. You made a mistake that cost a life, but you deserve a defense for your charges. Your actions were negligent but not homicidal. And our North Carolina state laws provide defenses for your criminal charges. You deserve a chance!

Our attorneys can help you find every defense for your DWI/ DUI manslaughter charge. Whether defending a DWI/ DUI resulting in death or severe injury, we have successfully defended many in your position. There is hope for vehicular manslaughter charges, and we work hard to protect your rights at every possible juncture of any judicial proceedings!

Give us a call or contact us today for help with your DWI/ DUI charges to get the best defense possible. You don’t have to face these charges alone. We’ll work with you and your family during this difficult time.  Contact us today to set up your free consultation and find out your next steps!