Penalties When Someone is Killed in a Drunk Driving Accident

The consequences of driving under the influence are serious; impaired drivers can cause accidents that lead to serious injuries, or even death. Arizona, unlike most other states, does not have specific laws about DUI fatalities. However, the lack of specific legislation does not lessen the penalties. The punishments for when a fatality occurs during a drunk driving accident in Arizona are severe.

Negligent Homicide

In Arizona, most drunk driving fatalities fall into one of three categories: negligent homicide, manslaughter, and second-degree murder. The court charges a person with negligent homicide when he or she exhibited negligence considered to be criminal. The prosecutor must prove that the defendant’s actions caused the victim’s death, and that he or she shirked the duty to keep other people safe from harm.

Understanding Vehicular Manslaughter

Manslaughter cases focus on recklessness. While negligent homicide is about someone failing to uphold a duty, manslaughter is about someone knowingly doing something dangerous and irresponsible. Even if he or she did not know it would lead to someone dying, the court considers reckless behavior that caused a fatality manslaughter.

There are three main traffic violations that cause the largest number of drunk driving fatalities: excessive speed, aggressive driving, and racing. An intoxicated driver committed manslaughter with excessive speed when he or she:

  • Exceeded 35 miles per hour in a school zone
  • Exceeded the speed limit in a business or residential area by more than 20 miles per hour
  • Exceeded 45 miles per hour in a business or residential area where there is no speed posted
  • Exceeded 85 miles per hour in other areas

An intoxicated driver committed manslaughter by driving aggressively if he or she:

  • Failed to obey traffic signs and devices such as stop signs and stoplights
  • Passed a vehicle by driving off the road
  • Made an unsafe lane change
  • Tailgated
  • Failed to yield
  • Was driving in a way that endangered other people

An intoxicated driver committed manslaughter by racing if he or she killed someone while involved in a race, speed competition, drag race, acceleration contest, or any similar situation on a street or highway.

Second-Degree Murder

The third main category for a drunk driving fatality is second-degree murder. The court will rule that an incident was second-degree murder if the driver showed an indifference to the lives of the people around him or her. Second-degree murder charges require that the person was aware of the risks of his or her actions and decided to do it despite the possible consequences.

Specific Penalties in Arizona for Negligent Homicide

The specific penalties change slightly for each case depending on the details of the circumstances. In general, however, the penalty for negligent homicide is one year to three years, nine months in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. Negligent homicide is a class four felony.

Manslaughter is a class two felony. A person charged with manslaughter could face three to 12 years and six months in prison and up to $150,000 in fines.

The most extreme of the convictions, second-degree murder, is a class one felony. For most people, a second-degree murder conviction means ten to 25 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines. The age of the victim, however, can intensify the charges. If the victim of the drunk driving accident was younger than 12, the driver could face a life sentence in prison. If the victim was 12, 13, or 14, the court could charge the driver with 13 to 27 years in prison.

For anyone of the three categories, a blood alcohol content level of above 0.15 could intensify the charges. The court is more likely to charge the defendant with one of the more severe punishments if he or she had a blood alcohol content level that was significantly higher than the legal limit