What are the Michigan Laws for Drunk Driving Causing Death?


In Michigan, Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) cases that lead to death usually fall into three categories:

  1. Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) Causing Death
  2. Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle
  3. Second-Degree Murder

OWI Causing Death

To convict a defendant of Operating While Intoxicated, leading to death, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant was operating his motor vehicle in violation of MCL 257.625 (1), (3), or (8);
  2. The defendant voluntarily decided to drive, knowing that they had consumed liquor and/or a controlled substance and might be intoxicated; and
  3. The defendant’s operation of the motor vehicle caused the victim’s death.

People v. Schaefer, 473 Mich. 418 (2005).

Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle

To convict someone of Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle, the prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they operated the vehicle in a grossly negligent manner and substantially caused the death of another.

People v. Lardie, 452 Mich. 231 (1996).

Second –Degree Murder

To convict a defendant of Second- Degree Murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was:

  1. a death,
  2. caused by an act of the defendant,
  3. with malice,
  4. without justification or excuse.

People v. Goecke, 457 Mich. 442 (1998).

Under Michigan law, malice is defined as the intent to kill, cause great bodily harm, or commit an act in wanton and willful disregard of the probability that the natural tendency of such behavior is to kill or do great bodily harm. Id.

Malice might be implied if the defendant acts in a way with a high probability to result in death and does so with a base antisocial motive and wanton disregard for human life.

In addition to the Second-Degree Murder charge, the prosecutor also has the discretion to simultaneously charge the defendant with an OWI Causing Death. Second-Degree Murder and OWI Causing Death convictions do not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause to the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. Amendment V.

Evidence of Second-Degree Murder existed in each of the following cases where the defendants were charged with having killed victims while driving drunk.

People v. Gonzalez, -Mich. App.- (1998, Muskegon County).

A car beithat was driven by the defendant collided with a sport utility vehicle, ending the lives of three of its passengers. The crash occurred after the defendant led police on a chase with speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour. The defendant’s blood-alcohol level was .13. The court sentenced the defendant to three concurrent sentences of life imprisonment.

People v. Sadler, -Mich. App.- (1998, Wayne County).

The defendant went to a bar, consumed three alcoholic beverages, and then chose to drive home. While driving home, the defendant claimed that he passed out at the wheel and his car and veered from the roadway, striking a woman who was jogging on the shoulder. The defendant’s BAC was 0.21, and the defendant admitted that he consumed cocaine the day before. The defendant pled guilty to Second-Degree Murder, and Driving Under the Influence of Liquor, Causing Death. The defendant was sentenced to between 10 and 20 years’ imprisonment for his Second-Degree Murder conviction.

People v. Werner, 254 Mich. App. 528 (2002, Oakland County).

The prosecution showed that the defendant drove after becoming seriously intoxicated. Additionally, the defendant knew from a recent prior incident that if he drank, he might experience blackout and drive recklessly and irresponsibly. That defendant was convicted of Second-Degree Murder and Operating Under the Influence of Liquor Causing Death.

People v. Bell, -Mich. App.- (2003, Oakland County).

A witness saw the defendant’s vehicle come up behind her and approach so close that she could not see its headlights in her rearview mirror. The witness moved onto the shoulder, and saw the defendant swerve into an SUV, causing that driver to suffer fatal injuries. The defendant’s BAC was .25, which is over three times the legal limit. The jury convicted the defendant of Second- Degree Murder and Operating Under the Influence of Liquor, causing death. The court sentenced the defendant as a habitual, third offender to 35 to 60 years’ imprisonment for the Second Degree Murder conviction.

These cases show that no single factor by itself may be enough. It could depend on the specific circumstances of each case. One thing remains true in these cases; the facts established a level of conduct that is beyond drunk driving. Each of these defendants acted in obvious disregard of life-endangering consequences. Call the Barone Defense Firm today to schedule a case consultation and get excellence in criminal defense.

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