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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > Fatal Alcohol Involved Crash Leads to Serious Charges

Fatal Alcohol Involved Crash Leads to Serious Charges

A man is charged with DUI and involuntary manslaughter in the wake of a fatal accident on Route 13 in Accomack County. Virginia state troopers responded to the one-car crash on the evening of December 9th. It is suspected that speeding and alcohol contributed to the driver losing control of the vehicle and spinning into a median. None of the vehicle’s four occupants were wearing seatbelts. One was ejected from the vehicle when it struck a culvert in the median, suffering fatal injuries. Another was critically injured. A third was hospitalized with major injuries.

DUI and Manslaughter Charges

While a DUI alone can have a very negative impact on your life, a fatal DUI accident can be devastating. Virginia law reserves harsh criminal penalties for intoxicated drivers who cause deaths.

Manslaughter arising from DUI is a class 5 felony. This means it ordinarily carries a penalty of imprisonment for 1 to 10 years, along with fines. The law treats ordinary DUI as a misdemeanor, but if you have the misfortune of causing a fatal accident while driving drunk, you face much more severe consequences. In fact, in cases of manslaughter arising from DUI, the sentence could be up to 20 years for “aggravated involuntary manslaughter.” This requires a showing that “the conduct of the defendant was so gross, wanton, and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life.” This would mean severe aggravating circumstances are involved. For instance, the following examples would likely result in an aggravated involuntary manslaughter conviction: if the person had a very high blood alcohol concentration, had been warned against driving in that condition prior to it happening, was driving especially dangerously, or had prior offenses, or some combination of these factors.

Additionally, nothing in the law limits the charges to manslaughter. The involuntary manslaughter statute specifically leaves open the possibility of a prosecutor charging the driver under another homicide statute. Frequently prosecutors attempt to charge defendants in these cases with second degree murder charges, claiming despite all fact and logic that an accident somehow arose from implied intent. This harsh tactic reflects both political realities and career incentives for prosecutors, and it is an unfortunate outgrowth of the “tough on crime” movement. Nevertheless, it is a reality for many defendants. Prosecutors do not show mercy to people in these situations, and they will do anything they can to secure a conviction.

In reality, sometimes in these cases guilt is not the issue, but of what crime the defendant is guilty. Often the best thing an attorney can do for a defendant in these situations is to keep the prosecutor from frivolously overcharging, hopefully obtaining a favorable and reasonable plea bargain. Or, if a prosecutor does overcharge the defendant, a skilled defense attorney can go to trial. Jurors are not sympathetic to drunk driving defendants, but they are also hesitant to convict them of murder. This is because most people intuitively know that it is wrong to label an obvious accident as murder, no matter how egregious the negligence involved.

Reckless Driving and Manslaughter Charges

Because the driver in this case is alleged to have been speeding, an alternative charge of reckless driving may be available. Like DUI, reckless driving is usually a misdemeanor offense, but can escalate to a felony when it results in a death or serious bodily injury. Depending on the circumstances involved, reckless driving can also lead to manslaughter charges.

Contact a Virginia Criminal Attorney Today

If you face misdemeanor DUI or reckless driving charges, first consider yourself lucky that you are not charged with something more serious. Second, know that you still need the help of a skilled attorney. The attorneys at Simms Showers in Leesburg defend DUI and reckless driving cases frequently, and we have the experience to make a difference in your case. More importantly, if you are facing more serious charges associated with a fatal accident, it is even more critical that you obtain the assistance of counsel. Prosecutors will show you no mercy if you try representing yourself, and while public defenders work hard and mean well, they are often unable to devote the time to fighting your case that it requires. When you are facing serious charges, you need serious representation. That’s what we provide. Contact us today.

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