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What happens when drunk driving leads to someone’s death?

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2022 | Drunk Driving |

It was probably the worst night of your life. You drank just a little too much. You never thought you would hurt anyone. But now, you’re facing criminal charges for causing someone’s death.

What are those charges going to be? Unlike some other states, Michigan doesn’t have a specific statute for vehicular homicide. Instead, you could be charged under other laws but given enhanced penalties. There are basically five options the prosecutor may choose from, depending on the specific facts of your case:

  • OWI involving death
  • Reckless driving involving death
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Manslaughter
  • Second-degree murder

Impaired driving that results in a death

The most common charge is probably OWI involving death. You can be charged with this offense if the prosecutor thinks they can prove that 1) you caused the death of another person in a car crash and 2) you were impaired while driving. Impaired means:

  • You (an adult) had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or more
  • You (under 21) had any alcohol in your system
  • You had any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your body
  • You were substantially deprived of normal motor control or clarity of mind due to drugs or alcohol
  • You were visibly impaired by drugs or alcohol

Reckless driving resulting in a death

If you weren’t technically over the limit or obviously intoxicated, you might still be charged as a reckless driver. The state can charge you with this if you operated your vehicle in “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” In other words, you knew your driving might be dangerous, but you did it anyway.

Involuntary manslaughter

You could be charged with involuntary manslaughter if your driving behavior was criminally negligent. The state doesn’t have to prove you intentionally killed someone; only that your behavior was careless or reckless and caused a death.


This offense is more serious than involuntary manslaughter in that the state must prove you drove in a grossly negligent manner. This is worse than mere carelessness or even recklessness. It means the driver knew you were driving in a dangerous way but disregarded that and intentionally did so anyway.

These four offenses are all felonies and can result in penalties of up to 15 years in prison, fines ranging from $2,500 to $10,000. If you are convicted, points would also be assessed on your driving record.

Second-degree murder

This is the most serious of the driving-related death offenses. The state must prove that you knowingly drive in a way that created a “very high risk” of death or great bodily harm to others. The dividing line between this and manslaughter isn’t very clear, but the more egregious your driving behavior, the more likely you are to face this charge.

Second-degree murder is a felony that can result in a penalty of up to life in prison.

If you are charged in a driving-related death, you need legal help immediately

These cases are extremely serious. However, it’s important to understand that the more serious the offense you are charged with, the more that prosecutor will have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. There may be an effective defense in your case that could reduce or eliminate the charges or minimize the consequences of a conviction.

The more time your defense attorney has to prepare your case, the better. Don’t wait to contact an experienced defense attorney if you are charged with an OWI-related death.