Should a DUI Death Be Treated as Murder?

We don’t report on India much – our bailiwick is ignition interlocks, drunk driving, and road safety in the US. But sometimes a question gets raised in another country that’s worth asking.

In Jaipur a drunk man in a speeding BMW killed three persons an injured five others. The country’s road transport ministry – roughly the equivalent of the US Department of Transportation – has proposed higher fines and license revocation. But a road safety expert named Rohit Baluja has said that every road crash death must be investigated as if it is a murder. Previously another politician requested that fatalities caused by speeding or drunk driving be classified as murder.

In the U.S, different state courts have wrestled with the question of whether causing a death while driving drunk is murder. None suggest that the crime is equivalent to first-degree murder, but several have ways of keeping those drivers on the hook.

  • California. If the death resulted from an intentional act, the natural consequences of which are deadly, and the act was knowingly and consciously committed, then a second-degree murder charge is possible.
  • Texas. A felony murder conviction results from a death, even unintentional, that results from the commission of a felony. Since driving drunk with two previous convictions ins a felony in Texas, a driver was recently convicted of felony murder after he drove drunk and caused the death of his passenger.
  • Colorado. Causing a death by knowingly engaging an act that creates a risk of death – a good description of drunk driving – can be termed murder if it stems from  extreme indifference to the value of human life. This is known as the depraved heart murder.

The Wider Question: Is It Really Murder?

How particular states consider drunk driving is interesting, but the bigger question is how we all think of it.  Like lawyers and judges, we need to consider intent. If a person drinks and drives, are they intending to kill? Certainly the driver knows that his or her behavior carries a risk, having seen a thousand PSAs and posters. Does that mean they intend to cause a crash?

It’s safe to say that anyone who drinks and drives is showing an indifference to human life and suffering. That does put the crime into a different category from other driving offenses, and also from many other kinds of unintentional harm.

The reason we need to consider it as the judges do is because we deal with potential drunk drivers often. That friend who has had a few and gets up to drive home. That person in the restaurant parking lot who is clearly unsteady but reaches for car keys anyway. And anyone who gives a party without considering how guests will get home afterwards.

If drunk driving can be tantamount to murder, then enabling drunk diving is a very serious offense as well. Something to remember whether you’re in India or Indiana: by staying vigilant you can prevent a murder.