Law Guide to Intoxication Manslaughter

In Texas, driving while intoxicated is a serious crime, but if you also cause the death of another while behind the wheel you can be charged with the additional charge of intoxication manslaughter. This crime requires that the state prove that you were both behind the wheel of a car intoxicated but that you also caused the reckless death of another.

Texas Intoxication Manslaughter

This type of criminal homicide is defined in Chapter 49 of the Texas Penal Code. Section 49.08 states that a person commits the crime of intoxication manslaughter if they “operate a motor vehicle in a public place, operate an aircraft, a watercraft, or an amusement ride, or assemble a mobile amusement ride; and are intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication cause the death of another by accident or mistake.” Section 49.01 defines the term “intoxicated” for the purpose of intoxication manslaughter. The statute states that a person must either:
  • Not have the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
  • Have an alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more

Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter

The offense of intoxication manslaughter is considered a felony in the second degree. It is considered equal in punishment to a normal manslaughter charge or vehicular manslaughter crime. Section 12.33 of the Texas Penal Code dictates the consequences for a felony of the second degree. This level of felony includes the following penalties:
  • Fine: up to $10,000
  • Prison sentence: between two and 20 years
Each charge of intoxication manslaughter applies only to one victim. Therefore, if two people are killed as a result of an intoxicated accident, two charges of intoxication manslaughter are attached. In addition, each penalty for intoxication manslaughter can be stacked on top of the other. These penalties combined are allowed to exceed the maximum sentence of twenty years for a single offense.

Defenses to Intoxication Manslaughter

It is important to note that intoxication manslaughter is considered a strict liability offense. Guilt for this offense is attached even if the death is caused by accident or mistake. Mental state, or mens rea, does not apply when considering the culpability for this crime. The most common defense to this crime is to claim that a person was not intoxicated when the accident occurred. Intoxication manslaughter also does not apply to the injury or death of an unborn child if the death was caused by the pregnant mother. Therefore, if a pregnant woman is driving while intoxicated and has an accident which kills her fetus, it is not considered a crime.