Intoxicated Drivers Argue They Were Too Drunk to be Guilty of Second Degree Murder


Texas criminal defense attorneyThree drivers who caused fatal accidents while intoxicated are currently pursuing a novel defense in an effort to have their second-degree murder convictions overturned. According to the New York Times, these drivers are claiming that they were too drunk to form intent to commit the crime.

Any DUI defense lawyer in Houston knows that a conviction for manslaughter or second-degree murder carries much more serious penalties than a conviction for drunk driving. Past cases have given rise to the possibility that clients could use intoxication as a defense against certain criminal charges that require intent, but the viability of this defense for intoxicated motorists throughout the United States remains unclear.

Can a Driver Be Too Drunk to Commit a Crime?

The three defendants who argue they were too intoxicated to commit second-degree murder have all brought their cases to the highest court in New York.  All three were severely impaired when they became involved in an accident, as one had been drinking for 10 hours, another was high on ecstasy and another was described as drinking himself “into a stupor” before driving.

The three were convicted of second degree murder based on a jury’s decision that they’d showed a depraved indifference for human life. However, the opinion in a 2006 case, People v. Feingold, said that depraved indifference was a state of mind, which means that the prosecutor in New York needs to show that the defendant consciously and willingly expressed an “utter disregard for the value of human life,” in order for a defendant to be guilty of second-degree murder.

If the defendant was too drunk to be aware that he was putting others at risk with his actions, the defendant did not intentionally or knowingly show this disregard. The drunk driver didn’t make the choice to endanger other people’s lives because he didn’t realize he was doing it. The court in People v. Feingold established a precedent to potentially support this argument since the appeals court upheld the lower court decision that the driver was so drunk he was oblivious to the danger when entered a highway going the wrong way. If this reasoning is extended, this could potentially make extreme drinking a defense in cases arising from vehicular homicide, at least in New York.

While judges in Texas and other states do not have to follow the rulings of other state courts, a decision that the drivers could be too drunk to commit second-degree murder could be used as persuasive evidence in other courts to perhaps convince a judge or a jury to apply the same reasoning.  If the defendants in these cases are able to get their convictions overturned, the decision could potentially give rise to such debate and other state courts.

Drivers who have been charged with any criminal offenses for causing injury or death while intoxicated should consult with an attorney to explore all possible options for defending against these serious charges. A criminal defense firm that stays abreast of significant legal developments in other states will be best prepared to defend clients facing serious traffic charges.

You need an experienced, aggressive Houston DUI lawyer.  Call 1-800-989-6839 today for your free consultation. More than 20 years experience.

Leave a Reply