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October 15, 2017

How does (and how should) homicide law respond to the drunk driver who kills?

As we wrap up the homicide unit, we will a look at how the law deals with drunk (and drugged) driving that results in an unintended death.  As a matter of "raw" numbers, this is arguably the most consequential aspect of our homicide unit: data from 2015 indicate that there were more drunk/drugged driving deaths than all types of intentional homicides throughout the US in that year.  As we will discuss, in many jurisdictions drunk driving cases can possibly be prosecuted under many possible forms of homicide ranging from vehicular homicide to negligent homicide to manslaughter to murder.

As time permits, I plan to have an extended in-class discussion of how you think homicide law should treat the "standard" drunk driver (first offense, relatively low BAC) who causes a single death, as well as the "extreme" drunk driver (repeat offense, high BAC) who causes multiple deaths.  The first part of that discussion will explore what level of homicide liability is available under current laws (particularly, of course, in Oliwood and Ohio), and then we will turn to a discussion of what kinds of liability and kinds of punishments you think ought to be applied in these cases.

I would welcome this discussion getting a running start in the comments here, and perhaps a case out of Florida discussed on my sentencing blog provides an interesting starting point.  This case involves Daniel Phillips who, with methamphetamine in his system, fell asleep at the wheel of his truck and slammed into another car killing two women on a rural Florida road.  Interestingly, though the defendant was convicted only of "DUI manslaughter" under Florida law, he was eligible for and did receive a life without parole sentence for his crimes.

Also, for various perspectives on these enduring issues, here is a national and a local article discussing these crimes and punishments:

Drunken driving homicide: Is it an accident or murder?

Vehicular homicide sentences not harsh enough, say victims' families

October 15, 2017 in Course materials and schedule, Notable real cases | Permalink


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