Texas law defines manslaughter as “recklessly causing the death of an individual.” This includes a death arising from a DWI accident. In other words, if you are drunk behind the wheel and unintentionally kill someone in an accident, you potentially face second-degree felony manslaughter charges.
Appeals Court: Defendant’s Driving, Drinking Constituted “Reckless” Behavior
In fact, a Texas appeals court recently upheld a manslaughter conviction–and 20-year prison sentence–of an Austin woman convicted of DWI-related manslaughter in a 2012 accident.
The victim was driving her car one evening on FM 2673, a two-lane road with no divider. As the victim rounded a curve in the road, her vehicle was struck by the defendant’s Ford Explorer. The victim died as a result, and two passengers in her car sustained serious injuries.
Accident and Scene Investigation
A Department of Public Safety trooper responded at the scene. He found the defendant pinned inside her vehicle “crying and screaming.” The trooper said he “detected an odor of an alcoholic beverage” and noticed the vehicle’s headlights were switched off. After emergency medical personnel removed the survivors, the trooper, an experienced accident investigator, then turned his attention to investigating the accident itself.
The trooper later testified at trial that the defendant caused the accident because she was “on the wrong side of the roadway” when the collision occurred. The trooper said he also believed the defendant had her headlights off at the time–despite the fact it was around 9 p.m. in the evening–and that he “thought that alcohol consumption might have been a factor.”
Evidence of Alcohol Consumption and Prior DWI Conviction
Indeed, when police examined the defendant’s Explorer, they found “a twelve-ounce can of beer that was a quarter full.” (An open container violation.) And when the trooper interviewed the defendant in her hospital room a few days after the accident, she admitted she had been drinking throughout the day, although “she did not know how much” she had consumed.
The jury also heard evidence regarding the defendant’s prior DWI conviction, as well as the fact she previously violated a court order not to consume alcohol as a condition of her bond.
Jury Finds Defendant Guilty of Manslaughter
The jury found the defendant guilty of manslaughter and assessed the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. On appeal the defendant raised several issues, including a challenger to the sufficiency of the evidence. The Texas Third District Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and affirmed the conviction.
With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence, the appeals court noted manslaughter requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of “recklessness.” Here, the evidence showed the defendant drove out of her lane, with her headlights off, and had been drinking that day.
This was enough for the jury to find recklessness, i.e., a “conscious disregard for the risk involved in driving in the manner in which the [defendant] was driving.”
Speak with a Galveston or League City DWI Accident Attorney Today
When someone dies in an auto accident, police will look to hold someone accountable, especially where there is evidence of drunk driving.
If you find yourself under investigation for a DWI accident, your best course of action is to invoke your right to remain silent and contact an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney right away. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to speak with a DWI accident defense lawyer today.