Recently, a 19-year-old was killed in a Missouri drunk driving crash allegedly caused by a man with three prior DUI. In the past, such an offense would likely lead to a charge such as manslaughter. However, the man was found guilty of second-degree murder.
The Missouri man is an example of a nationwide trend gaining steam in several states: to charge and prosecute drunk drivers for murder. After years of widely publicized information regarding the risks of drunk driving, experts say that juries are becoming less tolerant of drunk drivers, and are especially unforgiving when a drunk driving accident causes a fatality.
A widely publicized California case brought attention to the upswing in murder prosecutions for fatal DUIs. In Orange County, a man was allegedly driving drunk when he hit and killed rookie Los Angeles Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart and two friends. After just one day of deliberation, a jury found the man guilty of three counts of second-degree murder, instead of manslaughter.
According to Laura Dean-Mooney, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there is a recent trend among prosecutors to charge drunk drivers with murder if they have more than one previous DUI conviction and kill multiple people. Prosecutors say they focus on more than just prior convictions when charging a driver with murder, such as whether others tried to stop the driver, inferring that the driver had knowledge of the dangers of drunk driving.
A Shreveport defense lawyer has criticized this ongoing development, saying that fatal DUI cases do not meet the threshold elements of the crime of murder, which are required for any murder charge. However, judges and juries do not seem to hesitate in overlooking such requirements. A charge of murder can add several years to what would have been a manslaughter prison sentence.