A DWI accident can lead to multiple criminal charges, especially if the crash results in serious injury or death to another person. For example, a drunk driver who “causes the death of another by accident or mistake” may be charged with intoxication manslaughter, a second-degree felony under the Texas Penal Code. Separately, the driver may also be subject to a criminally negligent homicide charge, which is a state jail felony.
Court Rules “Double Jeopardy” Does Not Prevent Second Prosecution in Fatal Accident Case
There is also a separate offense under the Texas Transportation Code for failing to “stop and render aid” following an accident that result in someone’s death. Like intoxication manslaughter, this is a second-degree felony. In other words, if you get drunk and cause a deadly accident, the state can charge you with two distinct offenses, either of which can send you to prison for up to 20 years.
Understanding the Crime of Failure to Stop and Render Aid
And if you think the state cannot try you for both offenses based on “double jeopardy”–the constitutional rule that says you cannot be tried twice for the same offense–think again. A Texas appeals court recently explained why failing to stop and render aid is a distinct crime from intoxication manslaughter. And just because a defendant may be acquitted of one charge, that does not prohibit the state from subsequently trying a defendant for the other.
Double Jeopardy and Distinct Crimes
In this case, prosecutors initially charged the defendant with three crimes arising from a fatal accident: intoxication manslaughter, failure to stop and render aid, and criminally negligent homicide. The trial judge initially rejected the second charge. The defendant was then tried and acquitted by a jury of intoxication manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Reinstated Charge for Failure to Stop and Render Aid
Meanwhile, a Texas appeals court reinstated the failure to stop and render aid charge. The defendant then asked the trial judge for a writ of habeas corpus–essentially, a declaration that trying the defendant on this charge would constitute unconstitutional double jeopardy. Both the trial judge, and later the Court of Appeals, rejected this argument.
Distinguishing Intoxication Manslaughter and Failure to Stop and Render Aid
As the Court of Appeals explained, although all three crimes arise from a common event–the defendant striking and killing the victim with his car–they are legally distinct. To prove intoxication manslaughter, the Court noted, the prosecution obviously needed to prove the defendant was intoxicated–and that said intoxication caused the victim’s death. In contrast, the defendant’s intoxication status has no bearing on a failure to stop and render aid charge. As the name implies, the state need only prove the defendant failed to “stop, return, or remain” at the scene of the accident.
Contact a Galveston or League City DWI Accident Defense Attorney
As you can see, prosecutors may get multiple bites at the Apple when it comes to prosecuting a person who caused the death of someone in a DWI-related traffic accident. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Houston DWI accident defense lawyer anytime you are arrested or charged with a crime. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you have been involved in a serious accident and require immediate legal assistance.