In Colorado, DUI defendants can face far more severe charges if they are in an accident. When the accident is fatal, vehicular homicide charges are frequently filed. If the surrounding circumstances are bad enough, prosecutors will sometimes even charge a defendant with first degree murder.
Potential for More Severe Charges
If someone is injured or killed in an accident and the driver is suspected of driving under the influence, the charges become much more serious than a simple misdemeanor DUI. If the accused driver has a history of prior convictions for DUI, the situation becomes even worse, as some overzealous prosecutors try to prove malicious intent from these past incidents. In many states, it is not uncommon for defendants to face second degree murder charges (though convictions are rare because intent is difficult to prove). In Colorado, one defendant charged with first degree murder in a DUI crash was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison. While this type of case is less common than a vehicular manslaughter charge, it is something that could cause anyone previously convicted of a DUI to think and exercise extreme caution. But even if you don’t have prior convictions, being the cause of a DUI related death can send you to prison for four to twelve years.
Absent special circumstances such as prior offenses or an overreaching prosecutor, most defendants in fatal DUI crashes will face vehicular homicide charges rather than murder charges. Vehicular homicide is a class 3 felony, meaning that the penalties are more severe than manslaughter but less severe than second degree murder. It is also a strict liability crime, which means that the prosecution does not have to prove intent.
The Colorado vehicular homicide statute provides that “If a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and such conduct is the proximate cause of the death of another, such person commits vehicular homicide.”
A defendant in a vehicular homicide case ultimately has only two defenses. They must either prove that they were not intoxicated or that their intoxication was not the cause of the accident.
- Defendant was not intoxicated: This defense is difficult to prove and requires the use of experts to rebut the presumption of intoxication created by the state’s chemical testing. Generally, the higher the alcohol levels found in the blood, the more difficult it will be to rebut this presumption. Ultimately the burden is on the state to prove that the defendant was “substantially incapable, either mentally or physically, or both mentally and physically, of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.” If the results are close enough to the limit, a toxicology expert can cast scientific doubt on the accuracy of the sample by pointing out procedural errors. In that case, a good attorney can point to other circumstances such as the driving itself that may show the defendant was mentally and physically capable of safely operating a motor vehicle.
- Defendant’s intoxication was not the cause of the accident: Sometimes legal intoxication is clear but there is doubt as to whether the intoxication caused the accident. It is possible for someone to have blood alcohol concentrations exceeding the legal limit yet still drive safely. Accident reconstruction experts can be called to testify as to the causation of the accident. It may be the other driver’s fault, or other traffic circumstances may have led to the collision. A good attorney will thoroughly investigate the facts and use discovery procedures to gather police reports and other evidence as to the true cause of the accident. If a driver’s blood alcohol concentration was over the legal limit but otherwise did not violate any traffic laws or perform any unsafe maneuvers, they may be acquitted of vehicular homicide, even though they will still be convicted of the underlying DUI charge.
Get the Help of a Colorado Drunk Driving Attorney to Fight these Serious Charges
If you have been arrested or charged with vehicular homicide stemming from a DUI, you have a lot to lose—including your liberty. Facing the justice system without the help of counsel is very risky, and prosecutors in Colorado are very unlikely to cut you a deal simply because you show remorse. You need the help of experienced, knowledgeable DUI attorneys who will fight for you. The lawyers at Tiftickjian Law Firm, P.C. know how to analyze your case, mount the best defense, and employ expert testimony to get you the most favorable possible outcome, no matter how serious the charges. Call us today for a free consultation.