Gavel, alcohol and car keys on wooden table

DUI Resulting in Fatality Charges

Guilfoil Law Group March 7, 2023

If you’ve consumed alcohol and driven a vehicle in Missouri, you can be subject to the state’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws, which many people refer to as a DUI, or driving under the influence. A DUI/DWI charge is considered “per se” if a breath or blood test indicates a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher.   

Even if your BAC is lower than that, you can still be charged with what is called an “impairment DWI” for the presence of alcohol, drugs, or a controlled substance in your system along with the observation of impaired driving.

What’s worse is when a driver operating a vehicle under the influence injures or kills someone. Roughly 25 percent of fatal vehicular accidents in Missouri are caused by intoxicated drivers. 

There are 3.9 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities for every 100,000 people in Missouri, compared to the national average of 3.2. While a DWI is a misdemeanor, a DWI that results in injury or death rises to the level of a felony.

If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a DWI-related fatality in or around Kansas City, Missouri, contact me at the Guilfoil Law Group. I am a published author and teacher for The Missouri Bar Association on DWI and related topics, and I have represented countless individuals facing impaired-driving charges. I will work with you on developing a solid strategy to obtain the best possible result in your case. 

In addition to Kansas City, I proudly serve clients in the counties of Clay, Platte, and Jackson counties and throughout the state of Missouri. Reach out immediately if you’re facing a DWI leading to the death of someone. 

Possible Charges for a DWI Resulting in Someone’s Death 

Missouri doesn’t have a vehicular manslaughter statute that applies to driving-related unlawful killings. However, the driver can be charged with second-degree or first-degree manslaughter or a driving-while-impaired offense that results in the death of someone.  

A second-degree manslaughter charge can be levied if you’re driving in a “criminally negligent” manner by “unknowingly” doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to others. The legal standard is that the driver’s action or inaction amounts to a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances.  

A first-degree manslaughter charge can be levied if the driver operates their vehicle in a “reckless” manner by “knowingly” doing or failing to do something that substantially risks the lives of others. In contrast to a second-degree charge, first-degree manslaughter involves the driver disregarding the consequences of their driving even while being aware of their actions.  

A driving-while-impaired charge is a class C felony, meaning the driver caused death while driving in an intoxicated condition, which can be substantiated by a blood, breath, urine, or another test that shows the presence of alcohol or other substances exceeding legal limits.  

A second-degree manslaughter conviction, a class E felony, can lead to up to four years imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,00. First-degree manslaughter and a DWI-related killing, both class C felonies, can result in from three to ten years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines. 

What to Do If You’ve Been Charged: Possible Defenses 

Depending on which charge you face, you may have to mount somewhat different defenses, but the essential point is to seek experienced legal representation immediately.   

Other than providing your identity, you have a constitutional right to remain silent and not answer questions from authorities. Seek legal counsel immediately and keep in mind the words of your Miranda Rights: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Keep quiet until you have legal counsel on your side.  

All evidence can be challenged by your attorney. A breath or blood test relating to your blood alcohol content (BAC) can be contested on various fronts. Perhaps the breathalyzer wasn’t calibrated to standards, or the officer submitting the test didn’t follow established protocol. A blood test can be challenged on chain-of-custody issues or contamination issues by those handling the sample.  

As for the death of the other person, besides showing that you, the driver, was not legally intoxicated, the defense can argue that the driver was not illegally operating their vehicle, knowingly or unknowingly, but was doing what any “reasonable person” would do.   

Remember, the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” A skilled attorney can raise doubt as to any evidence or testimony submitted by prosecutors. 

Helping You Understand Your Options 

A driving accident that results in the loss of life is obviously a serious situation, with both criminal and civil penalties looming. You need to act quickly and seek an experienced criminal defense attorney before submitting to any questioning or acknowledging any guilt.   

Your attorney can help you exercise your rights and can present your side of the story to prosecutors in hopes of getting a lesser charge or even having the charge dropped altogether. They can also negotiate for a plea bargain or a diversion program if available.   

Your future livelihood is at stake, so you need to take matters seriously. Even if your penalties are reduced, a criminal record can haunt your life forever, limiting your employment and other options going forward.  

Contact me immediately at the Guilfoil Law Group if you’re facing a charge related to impaired driving in or around Kansas City that led to someone’s loss of life. I will work with you on exercising your rights and developing a strong defense to achieve the best result possible.