Intoxication Manslaughter

Some DWI offenses come with felony charges either because of the number of prior convictions or because another person was injured or killed as a result of the DWI. One of the most serious types of DWI crimes prosecuted in Tarrant County, TX, is the felony offense of intoxication manslaughter. The elements of the offense include proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving while intoxicated, and by reason of that intoxication caused the death of another person by accident or mistake.

Except as provided in Section 49.09, the offense of intoxication manslaughter is a second degree felony. The penalties are enhanced for certain types of vulnerable victims including a peace officer, a firefighter, or an EMT killed in the crash.

The death in an intoxication manslaughter case can involve a victim who was not in a vehicle, a three-vehicle collision initially caused by the defendant, or a case in which the defendant hits a vehicle that then hits the victim.

Attorneys for Intoxication Manslaughter Crimes in Fort Worth, TX

If you were charged with intoxication manslaughter in Fort Worth or Tarrant County, TX, then contact an experienced criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Richard C. McConathy. Our attorneys represent clients charge with serious alcohol and drug related driving offenses throughout Tarrant County, TX.

Call (817) 422-5350 today to discuss your case during a free and confidential office consultation.

Elements of Intoxication Manslaughter under Section 49.08

The elements of the offense of intoxication manslaughter include proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  • operated a motor vehicle in a public place;
  • while intoxicated; and
  • by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.

Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 49.08.

The term “intoxicated ” is defined by statute as either:

  • not having 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 (the impairment theory); or
  • having a blood or blood alcohol concentration level of 0.08% or more (the “per se” theory). 

Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 49.01(2)(A, B).

Causation in a DWI Manslaughter Case

Under the Texas Penal Code, "[a] person is criminally responsible" for a particular result “if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, operating either alone or concurrently with another cause, unless the concurrent cause was clearly sufficient to produce the result and the conduct of the actor clearly insufficient.” TEX. PENAL CODE ANN. § 6.04(a). 

This "but for' causation must be established by providing evidence of a connection between an accused's conduct and the resulting harm. See Robbins v. State, 717 S.W.2d 348, 351 (Tex.Crim.App. 1986). In Glauser v. State, 66 S.W.3d 307, 313 (Tex.App.–Houston [1st Dist.] 2000, pet. ref’d), the court found in an intoxication manslaughter case, that the State is required to prove not only that the defendant was intoxicated, but that there was a causal connection between the defendant's intoxication and the death of the victim.

When concurrent causes are present, the “but for” requirement is satisfied when either the accused's conduct is sufficient by itself to have caused the harm, or the accused's conduct coupled with another cause is sufficient to have caused the harm. Bell v. State, 169 S.W.3d 384, 395 (Tex.App.–Fort Worth 2005, pet. ref’d). 

As a result, the courts in Texas have recognized that the State is not required to prove that intoxication was the sole cause of the accident. Carrillo v. State, No. 08-01-00471-CR, 2003 WL 1889943, at *8 (Tex.App.–El Paso April 17, 2003, pet. ref'd) (not designated for publication). 

Whether a causal connection exists between a defendant's intoxication and the cause of an accident is a question of fact for the jury to decide. See Hardie v. State, 588 S.W.2d 936, 939 (Tex.Crim.App. 1979).

The State was not required to present any “direct” evidence of the manner in which Appellant was driving his vehicle prior to the accident in order to establish that his intoxication was the cause of the accident. For example, in Mitchell v. State, 419 S.W.3d 655, 663-64 (Tex.App.–San Antonio 2013, pet. ref’d), the court rejected the defendant's argument that evidence was insufficient to support conviction for intoxication manslaughter were there were no witnesses to the accident or the manner in which defendant was operating his vehicle at the time of the accident, because the State's evidence otherwise established that defendant was intoxicated when he struck a pedestrian who was walking on the side of the road).

Instead, the prosecutor will often attempt to use circumstantial evidence to establish a causal connection between a defendant's intoxication and the cause of an accident. For example, in Killian v. State, No. 08-01-00032-CR, 2002 WL 1939156, at *5 (Tex.App.–El Paso Aug. 14, 2002, pet. ref'd) (not designated for publication), the court found circumstantial evidence was sufficient to provide a causal connection between the intoxication and the victim's death, where the evidence established that the defendant, who was clearly intoxicated, ran a red light causing the accident.

Deadly Weapons Notice in an Intoxication Manslaughter Case

The prosecutor will often include a deadly weapon notice in an intoxication manslaughter indictment. The criminal defense attorney in the case must be served with notice that is timely and adequate. If the jury finds this allegation true at trial, the finding has a dramatic impact on the amount of time the defendant might receive in prison after a conviction. With the finding, Texas law requirements the defendant to serve at least half of the prison sentence assessed and does not allow for any good-time credit as explained in Tex. Gov't Code Section 508.145(d).

The notice in the indictment will often allege that "during the commission of the above-described felony, the defendant did use a deadly weapon, to-wit, a motor vehicle, that in the manner of its use or intended use was capable of causing death or serious bodily injury...." Even if the notice is not contained in the indictment, the prosecutor might serve the defendant with a separate motion that the prosecution will attempt to prove the defendant's vehicle was used as a deadly weapon and that the state will seek an affirmative deadly weapon finding.

A deadly weapon instruction and finding is not proper without substantial evidence that another person was on the highway at the time and place that the defendant drove while intoxicated. For this reason, a deadly weapon notice is not appropriate in many felony DWI cases.

Minimum Penalties for Intoxication Manslaughter in Tarrant County, TX

In Tarrant County, TX, the crime of intoxicated manslaughter is most often charged as a second-degree felony under Section 49.08. The penalties imposed by the judges in Fort Worth include:

  • no less than 120 days of confinement under CCP Art. 42.12 Section 13(b); 
  • drug and alcohol evaluation and rehabilitation under CCP Art. 42.12 Section 13(a)(2) and 13(f); 
  • payment for the rehabilitation program as required by CCP Art. 42.12 Section 13(d); and
  • completion of an alcohol education program under CCP Art. 42.12 Section 13(h). 

This article was last updated on Friday, April 21, 2017.

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