Any driver who operates his/her vehicle while under the influence of alcohol risks being charged with a DUI. If a person is killed as a result of a drunk driver, a drugged driver, or even a driver who is not quite legally drunk but still impaired by alcohol, that driver could face a different set of felony charges. All of these offenses will likely result in a lengthy prison sentence and substantial fines. Simply put, Maryland does not excuse the death of someone if that person was killed by a drunk driver.
The way to avoid jail time and the fine is to have the charges dismissed, obtain an acquittal, or negotiate the criminal charges to a lesser offense. At Carey Law Office, our respected Bowie and Crofton DUI attorney has been fighting for defendants charged with intoxication claims including driving while impaired, driving under the influence, and homicide by vehicle while under the influence of alcohol for 40 years. We have a strong track record of success obtaining dismissals, acquittals, and plea bargains to lesser charges.
What are the criminal charges and penalties for killing someone while driving drunk?
The Maryland Criminal Code has its own category for Homicide by Motor Vehicle or Vessel While Impaired or Under the Influence. There are four charges in this section of the Code.
Homicide by motor vehicle or vessel while under the influence of alcohol or under the influence of alcohol per se
Under Section 2-503, drivers who cause the death of another person while operating their vehicle under the influence of alcohol (or alcohol per se) can be charged with a homicide – provided the death was the “result of the person’s negligently driving, operating, or controlling a motor vehicle…”
With one exception involving a vessel, the crime is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines or both. The penalties for a subsequent conviction are up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines or both. The Maryland court will assess similar convictions from other state courts or federal courts, based on whether the foreign conviction would be a conviction in Maryland.
Homicide by motor vehicle or vessel while impaired by alcohol
Section 2-504 of the Criminal Code applies to any driver who “cause[s] the death of another as a result of the person’s negligently driving, operating, or controlling a motor vehicle or vessel while impaired by alcohol.”
If you are convicted of this felony charge, you face between 3 and 5 years in prison, and/or between $5,000 and $10,000 in fines.
Homicide by motor vehicle or vessel while impaired by drugs
Section 2-505 states “A person may not cause the death of another as a result of the person’s negligently driving, operating, or controlling a motor vehicle or vessel while the person is so far impaired by a drug, a combination of drugs, or a combination of one or more drugs and alcohol that the person cannot drive, operate, or control a motor vehicle or vessel safely.” The punishment for a conviction is 5-10 years in prison, and/or $5,000 to $10,000 in fines.
Homicide by motor vehicle or vessel while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance
Under Section 2-506, “A person may not cause the death of another as a result of the person’s negligently driving, operating, or controlling a motor vehicle or vessel while the person is impaired by a controlled dangerous substance.” Conviction of this felony charge can lead to between 5 and 10 years in prison, and/or $5,000 to $10,000 in fines.
It is worth noting, however, that if you have a prescription for the controlled substance, this section of the code does not imply. You can still be charged with a crime, but it will not be this one.
What related charges may apply?
Drivers who cause the death of someone with their vehicle may also be charged with:
- Manslaughter by vehicle or vessel – gross negligence. This offense is a felony. The penalty for conviction is up to 10 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines or both. Gross negligence essentially means the driver knew and consciously disregarded the known danger his/her conduct posed to human life.
- Manslaughter by vehicle or vessel – criminal negligence. Operating a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner means:
- “The person should be aware, but fails to perceive, that the person’s conduct creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such a result will occur.”
- The failure to perceive constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that would be exercised by a reasonable person.
If a driver is just negligent but the other conditions do not apply, then the charge should not apply. A conviction for a first offense is a misdemeanor with penalties of up to 3 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines. Subsequent offenses are felonies with harsher penalties.
How can a criminal defense lawyer help if you are charged with vehicular homicide or manslaughter?
Skilled criminal defense lawyers assert every legal and factual defense possible in any type of crime based on driving under the influence. These defenses include:
- Contesting the basis of the police stop. The police need reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed to stop a driver.
- Challenging the validity and accuracy of the tests. There are specific procedures law enforcement must follow when giving field sobriety tests, breath tests, and blood tests. In the case of breath machinery, the machinery must be inspected on a regular basis and must be of a type that has been proven to be a valid breath machine.
- Challenging the time of the test. Many times, the breath or other tests are given after much time has elapsed between the drive or the time of the accident which caused someone to die. If too much time has passed, the tests may not reflect your condition at the time of the accident.
- Asserting your Constitutional rights. Some tests require a warrant. The police need to comply with your Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights.
- Proving the chain of custody of the evidence is broken. The government must show how that the evidence presented in court is the same evidence that was seized or taken – such as the breath test.
- Showing that the driver’s negligence did not cause the accident. For example, the victim may have died because he/she was driving negligently.
Many other legal and factual defenses depending on what happened may apply.
At Carey Law Office, our Maryland criminal defense lawyer has 40 years of experience representing defendants in state and federal court. We have obtained numerous acquittals, dismissals, and plea reductions of DUI and DUI-related charges. Our experienced Bowie and Crofton defense lawyer understands when to negotiate with prosecutors and when to contest every position they take. To review a homicide by vehicle under the influence of alcohol charge or any DUI charge, call us at 301-464-2500 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.
My name is Joe Carey, and I am the founder and principal attorney of the Carey Law Office. I have lived in Maryland my entire life. I grew up in a small town in Prince George’s County and, with the help of my partner in life, Nancy, I raised my family here: three exceptional children (a son and two daughters), and two goofy, spoiled black Labrador Retrievers. Learn More