Drunk Driving and Vehicular Homicide

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If a driver is involved in a traffic collision that causes the death of another person, the driver can be charged with homicide just as if they had used a gun to kill the person.

The fact that the driver was intoxicated is not a defense in a vehicular homicide case, but in fact, can actually enhance the charges against the driver in most states.

The driver can be charged if the person killed is in another vehicle, a pedestrian or even a passenger in his own vehicle.

Vehicular homicide charges are not limited to drivers who were intoxicated at the time of the crash. The charge can also be filed if the driver was operating the vehicle in a reckless manner or without regard for the safety of others.

In most jurisdictions, penalties for vehicular homicide are greater if the driver was intoxicated. In all states, a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 is considered legally intoxicated.

Every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia have laws providing for penalties for vehicular homicide, but those penalties vary widely from state to state.

Additionally, the vehicular homicide laws allow for wide judicial discretion in sentencing.

Vehicular Homicide Sentences

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the following are approximate sentences in each state for vehicular homicide by drunk drivers:

Alabama: 1 to 10 years
Alaska: 1 to 99 years
Arizona: 1 to 22 years
Arkansas: 5 to 20 years
California: 0 to 10 years
Colorado: 0 to 24 years
Connecticut: 1 to 10 years
Delaware: 1 to 5 years
DC: 0 to 30 years
Florida: 0 to 15 years
Georgia: 0 to 15 years
Hawaii: 0 to 10 years
Idaho: 0 to 15 years
Illinois: 1 to 28 years
Indiana: 2 to 20 years
Iowa: 1 to 25 years
Kansas: 0 to 172 months
Kentucky: 0 to 10 years
Louisiana: 3 to 30 years
Maine: 6 months to 10 years
Maryland: 0 to 5 years
Massachusetts: 30 days to 15 years
Michigan: 0 to 20 years
Minnesota: 0 to 10 years
Mississippi: 5 to 25 years
Missouri: 0 to 15 years
Montana: 0 to 30 years
Nebraska: 1 to 50 years
Nevada: 2 to 25 years​
New Hampshire: 0 to 15 years
New Jersey: 5 to 10 years
New Mexico: 0 to 6 years
New York: 0 to 15 years
North Carolina: 15 to 480 months
North Dakota: 0 to life imprisonment
Ohio: 1 to 15 years
Oklahoma: 0 to 1 year
Oregon: 0 to 20 years
Pennsylvania: 0 to 10 years
Rhode Island: 5 to 20 years
South Carolina: 1 to 25 years
South Dakota: 0 to 15 years
Tennessee: 8 to 60 years
Texas: 2 to 20 years
Utah: 0 to 15 years
Vermont: 1 to 15 years
Virginia: 1 to 20 years
Washington: 31 to 177 months
West Virginia: 90 days to 10 years
Wisconsin: 0 to 40 years
Wyoming: 0 to 20 years

The jail or prison time sentences above do not include any other additional charges the driver may face as a result of the vehicular crash.

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  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Drunk Driving.

  2. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Penalties for Drunk Driving Vehicular Homicide. Updated July 2018.