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Fatal DUI Accidents in Alaska – The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Vehicle accidents can cause serious injuries and fatalities. Anyone who is intoxicated or who is under the influence of drugs may be more likely to cause serious injury or death if they drive and cause an accident. In many cases, if this happens, law enforcers may charge the driver with both DUI as well as one of Alaska’s homicide offences. But in what circumstances might this be murder rather than manslaughter? We need to examine Alaska’s homicide laws before answering that question.

Alaska does not have a ‘vehicular homicide’ charge as many other states do. All acts that result in the death of another person are treated as one or another category of homicide. These offenses are felony charges and if convicted result in a long period of imprisonment, a large fine, or both.

Murder is divided into two categories. One is murder in the first degree and the other is murder in the second degree. If a driver kills someone in an accident and is charged with DUI, very occasionally he or she is also charged with murder in the second degree, the lesser of the second murder charges.

Manslaughter is also divided into two categories: manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, which is the lesser of the two manslaughter charges.

The basic difference between murder and manslaughter is that murder involves the deliberate intention to kill someone, while manslaughter doesn’t. The difference between the two manslaughter charges in Alaska depends on how negligent the person has been to cause the death of someone else.

If you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs and then decide to drive, this is sufficient to be regarded as negligent behavior. But how does a court decide whether a DUI suspect is sufficiently negligent to be charged with manslaughter or even murder?

It’s not an easy call as the person’s level of intoxication, previous behavior, behavior at the time of the accident, number of times that he or she had been charged with DUI before are all taken into consideration.

A person is generally regarded as DUI if it is discovered through a blood alcohol test that his / her blood alcohol level was greater than 0.08 (for an adult non commercial driver), but there are more subjective measures that might be used as well. Blood alcohol tests can be notoriously unreliable, and sobriety tests that are often used on the spot by police are even more unreliable, but these are the yardsticks that law enforcers have to use when deciding just how ‘DUI’ and therefore how negligent someone is, at the time of an accident.

Take two hypothetical examples at opposite ends of the scale of negligence.

In the first, someone who has already been convicted twice for DUI drinks heavily, then drives and kills someone in an accident. He has not only been convicted for DUI before, but has been charged with reckless driving on other occasions. His blood alcohol level recorded after arrest was three times the legal limit.

In the second example, a man has been drinking beer with a friend when his friend suddenly has a heart attack. There is no cell phone signal where they have been drinking and the man decides to rush him to hospital, even though he knows that he could be over the limit. On the way, he crashes the car and his friend subsequently dies. The driver’s blood alcohol level is just over 0.08.

The two examples are obviously quite different in context and it wouldn’t be surprising if the first example involved a more serious charge than the second.

If you have been charged with DUI and either murder in the second degree, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, don’t rely on prosecutors to be fair when they charge you. You can be charged with DUI when the evidence is unconvincing and be charged inappropriately if someone is killed after an accident that you have been involved in.

A good criminal defense attorney can help to defend you against any of these charges and ensure your charges are dismissed or that you are only charged fairly with an offense. You cannot be convicted in Alaska unless the evidence is beyond doubt that you actually committed an offense.

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Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan

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Anchorage, AK 99503
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