Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious charge with serious penalties. Those penalties ratchet up, however, if someone is injured or dies as a result of a drunk driving accident. If you are accused of being under the influence and causing or contributing to a fatal accident, you need to call a defense attorney immediately.
There are four criminal charges you may face (at least) if you are accused of causing a car crash that causes injuries or death:
- 39-13-106. Vehicular Assault. You may face this charge if you cause another person serious injury while you are driving under the influence. It is a Class D felony, punishable by between two and 12 years in jail, and/or up to $5,000 in fines, on top of additional costs.
- 39-13-115. Aggravated Vehicular Assault. This is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prions and/or between $5,000 and $15,000 in fines, plus additional costs. You may face this charge if you committed vehicular assault AND:
- Have two or more DUI convictions; or
- Have a prior conviction for vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or aggravated vehicular homicide
- Have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .20%, and
- Have at least one prior DUI conviction
- 39-13-213. Vehicular Homicide. You can be charged with vehicular homicide for “the reckless killing of another by the operation of a motor vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This is Class B felony, punishable by imprisonment for eight to 30 years plus up to $25,000 in fines, as well as additional costs.
- 39-13-218. Aggravated Vehicular Homicide. This charge is the most serious – a Class A felony, punishable by between 15 and 60 years of prison, plus up to $50,000 in fines, as well as additional costs. Under the law, you may face this charge if you commit an act of vehicular homicide AND have two or more convictions for:
- DUI-related charges;
- Vehicular assault; or
- Any combination of the two.
You may also be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide if you have previously been convicted of vehicular homicide, OR if you have a BAC of .20% at the time, and a at least one prior conviction for DUI or vehicular assault.
We cannot stress enough the importance of seeking experienced counsel as soon as possible. Vehicular assault and vehicular manslaughter charges are not like other types of DUIs. The fallout from a conviction will be swift and substantial, and you do not want to tackle this on my own.
Why are fatal DUIs different from other DUI charges?
Most DUI charges – especially for first or even second-time offenders – are misdemeanor charges. They are serious charges, but there are ways to mitigate the outcome if you are convicted. For example, certain first-time offenders may be able to apply for a restricted license, so they can still go to school, work, doctor’s appointments, or other approved places. This is critical, because a DUI is expensive enough without you losing your ability to work.
When you are charged with harming another person, however, everything changes because the stakes get much higher. Employers who might overlook a misdemeanor DUI offense will balk at a felony homicide offense – and that charge will absolutely come up on a background check. Because these charges are felonies, you can also face the loss of your right to carry a firearm, vote, or get financial aid for school or housing. You will lose any professional licenses you hold, as well as any security clearances. You can also lose your right to custody of your children, or even your right to be recognized as a parent. All of this is on top of the thousands of dollars in court fees and fines.
Another major difference is the likelihood of a civil trial. Vehicular homicide charges are criminal charges, which means the state acts as the plaintiff. However, you may also face a wrongful death lawsuit from the family members of the deceased. These two cases co-exist, and if you are found guilty, you will likely also be held liable in civil court because the civil attorney will use your conviction as evidence against you. Generally these judgments are not available for bankruptcy protection, and you may be working to pay the judgment with your wages garnished for the rest of your life.
If you are facing a vehicular homicide or vehicular assault charge, choosing the right attorney is critical. You want someone who is not only experienced in DUI cases, but also has the skills and resources to handle a vehicular homicide charge. Our Sevierville defense lawyers have both. We also have experience handling wrongful death claims, which means you can benefit from our years of experience in civil courtrooms, too.
Immediate steps following a fatal DUI accident
If you are involved in a fatal car crash and law enforcement has reason to believe you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself in the immediate aftermath:
- Do not consent to a breath test or the roadside sobriety tests. You are legally allowed to refuse these tests. You also have the right to refuse a blood test unless the officer obtains a warrant, or there are “exigent circumstances.” If you are taken to a hospital and the police attempt to get a blood sample there, tell us.
- Do not admit to anything. Anything you say can and will be used against you, whether you say it at the scene or at the station. Do not assume that anything you say before you are given your Miranda rights is inadmissible. In fact, do not assume that you will be read your rights at all. Do not apologize to anyone. Do not speak with anything.
- Ask for a lawyer. You can request a lawyer immediately; you do not have to wait to be brought to the station or officially charged with a crime.
At Delius & McKenzie, PLLC, we work to suppress any illegally obtained evidence that could be used against you and advise you of your best course of action. Our Sevierville DUI defense lawyers have decades of experience representing clients accused of DUI, homicide crimes, and other felonies. Call 865-428-8780 or fill out our contact form and get the help you need. We make in-custody visits. Proudly serving Sevierville, Seymour, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the surrounding Tennessee areas.