What Constitutes Vehicular Manslaughter in Texas?

Every year thousands of Texas residents die in car accidents. According to the most recent statistics from the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 162 car accident fatalities alone in the City of Houston and Harris County during 2014. Many of these fatal accidents were the result of negligent or reckless acts on the part of a driver—behavior which is considered manslaughter under Texas law.

Defining Manslaughter

Homicide refers to the intentional, knowing, reckless, or negligent act of killing another person. Texas divides homicide into two broad categories: murder and manslaughter. Manslaughter is defined in Texas as “recklessly” causing the death of a person. Unlike many other states, Texas does not separately classify “voluntary” and “involuntary” manslaughter. Manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by a prison term of between 2 and 20 years and a fine of no more than $10,000.

Vehicular v. Intoxication Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter is a term often used to describe acts of reckless driving that cause or result in someone’s death. For example, it is against Texas law to engage in a drag race on a public highway. If two cars get into such a race and one of the drivers is killed, the other may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

A more common example of vehicular manslaughter is someone struck and killed by a person driving under the influence of alcohol. This is known as intoxication manslaughter under Texas law. And intoxication manslaughter does not just refer to drunk driving accidents. It applies in any case where an intoxicated person operates a car, boat, airplane, or even an amusement park ride, and “by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.”

Proving Vehicular Manslaughter

Unlike murder, manslaughter does not require proof of premeditation or intent to harm anyone. This means that in order to convict a person of vehicular manslaughter, a prosecutor need only prove—beyond a reasonable doubt—that the defendant’s conduct was reckless, and that recklessness caused the victim’s death. In cases of intoxication manslaughter, the prosecution must also prove that the defendant either had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit of .08 percent or did not have the “normal use” of his or her faculties due to alcohol or drug use.

Defending Yourself Against Vehicular Manslaughter Charges

If you have been in a car accident and subsequently charged with vehicular manslaughter, you need to speak with a qualified Houston DWI manslaughter attorney right away. These are serious charges that will not go away on their own. A vehicular manslaughter lawyer can assist you in all stages of the criminal justice process and ensure you have your day in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.