Intoxication Manslaughter in Texas

Texas Penal Code Section 49.08 states: “A person commits [intoxication manslaughter] if the person:

  1. Operates a motor vehicle in a public place [omitting watercraft, aircraft and amusement ride provisions because they are not as common but we can certainly defend them]; and
  2. Is intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.

This is a felony of the second degree which brings a potential penalty of 2-20 years in prison. There are other rare circumstances where this could be a higher penalty range, but this is the most common.

The prosecution will almost always add that the motor vehicle is a deadly weapon, which, if a person receives prison time, significantly affects the person’s parole eligibility date.

When defending these cases, it is important to note three things:

  1. The State must prove intoxication beyond a reasonable doubt just as they would have to in any DWI case. Just because they can prove that someone died does not mean that is all they must prove. Someone can have had a drink or two, not have been intoxicated, cause an accident causing the death of another and still not be guilty of this offense;
  2. The person can commit this offense by accident or mistake. So normally, if you commit an offense by accident or it involved an honest and reasonable mistake of fact, you can be found not guilty, that is NOT the case for this offense. In other words, the State need NOT prove that the person’s actions were intentional, knowing, reckless nor criminally negligent—but that leads us to the final point;
  3. The State still must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the intoxicated person CAUSED the death of another by reason of that intoxication. For example, if someone is driving while intoxicated but obeying all traffic laws and proceeds through a green light and someone else runs a red light, T-Bones the DWI driver and in so doing during the crash, the person who ran the red light dies, which was caused by them running the red light, this does not make the accused guilty of Intoxication Manslaughter because the accused did not cause the death of the other person by reason of the accused’s intoxication—it was due to the other person running the red light. The accused, however, still could be charged for DWI.

These cases begin to entail quite a bit of expert analysis, including that which you would have in defending against a DWI (breath/blood analysis), but also accident scene reconstruction under certain circumstances.

We have handled serious intoxication cases and guide our clients through their options in defending these cases. We have worked with experts who have analyzed crime scenes. We have received reports of how dangerous particular stretches of roadway are and we have dealt with other scientific evidence such as Airbag Control Modules, often referred to as black boxes, which capture quite a bit of pre-crash data detailing when someone braked before a crash, their speed, etc.

Just because you are charged, all is not lost. That is when the Defense begins.

[If this seems similar to our section on Intoxication Assault, it’s because it is. The only difference is death versus serious bodily injury. In the Intoxication Manslaughter cases, this will also entail another witness, the medical examiner. What the skilled lawyer must pay attention to is the manner of death which the medical examiner testifies to. There are really only five manners of death: Homicide; Natural Causes [think illness of any kind]; Suicide; Accident or Undetermined/Inconclusive. If the medical examiner lists the cause of death as homicide, that does not mean that the accused is guilty of intoxication manslaughter, but it will be important to understand why that manner of death was reached. However, if the manner of death is listed as accident, that also does not mean the accused did not commit intoxication manslaughter, because the law provides that it can be proven through accident or mistake].

Call us at (512) 494-4070 or request a free consultation online now relating to this specific charge.