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DUI fatality: Can drunk driving become a homicide?

Drunk driving can have serious repercussions, especially when it results in death. Depending on the circumstances, DUI can sometimes lead to homicide charges. 

In South Dakota, a drunk driver who causes death to another person faces Class 3 felony charges. If convicted for these charges, you may face up to 15 years in prison and a fine not exceeding $30,000. In addition, your license could be revoked for not less than ten years.

When a DUI can be charged as a homicide

Driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above .08 is considered drunk driving, which is illegal. So when you’re drunk, and you decide to drive your car, you may face DUI charges. However, suppose you hit a pedestrian or get into a fatal accident. In that case, you will also be charged with vehicular homicide if it’s established that your actions were reckless and you didn’t show any regard for human life.

Factors that can upgrade your DUI charges to homicide

There are some factors that can potentially upgrade your DUI charge to homicide. This may include:

  • Reckless driving
  • Prior DUI convictions
  • High BAC levels
  • Presence of minors in the vehicle during the incident
  • Evidence of deliberately trying to harm someone 

Any of these factors may upgrade DUI charges to homicide.

Elements of a DUI homicide charge

A prosecutor has to establish some elements for a DUI charge to be upgraded to homicide. When these elements aren’t proven, your charge may be reduced. 

  • Prove that you were driving or in control of the car: The prosecutor has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were operating the vehicle or that you could operate it.
  • Prove you were under the influence: The prosecutor may use police testimony, eyewitness accounts and toxicology reports to prove you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the incident happened.
  • Prove your actions led to the death of another person: The prosecutor may use the testimony of medical professionals, eyewitnesses and accident reconstructionists to prove your actions directly caused the death of another person. 
  • Prove you knowingly disregarded human life: The prosecutor can use prior DUI convictions, high BAC levels, reckless driving and the presence of minors in the vehicle to prove you showed wanton disregard for human life.

DUI charges that involve death can lead to harsh criminal penalties. Therefore, if you were involved in such an incident, consider getting legal assistance to protect your rights and determine your defense options.