The Orange County District Attorney has filed murder charges against the 32-year-old driver of a Toyota 4Runner SUV who officials say struck and killed a 29-year-old man and his dog. According to a news report in The Orange County Register, the incident that occurred on March 19 also left the victim’s fiancée injured. The driver now faces murder and DUI charges.
The Orange County man who faces murder charges for this fatal crash previously pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in an Idaho case in 2009. According to the report, that was his first offense. So the Nez Perce County judge put him on probation instead of imposing a conviction. He served 24 hours of community service, paid a fine, and later filed a motion with the court to have the guilty plea dismissed.
The penalties that will result from a drunk driving conviction in Orange County are severe, but they increase substantially if the defendant’s actions led to a serious injury or death. In fact, a driver could face a number of different charges in California for causing injury or death including:
- DUI causing injury
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- Second-degree DUI murder
Typically DUI-related deaths are prosecuted as manslaughter, but the charges can be elevated to murder under certain circumstances. Drivers can be charged with murder for a fatal crash if they are repeat offenders who have been educated of the dangers of driving under the influence or if they have been previously convicted for a DUI. The important difference between a second and first-degree murder charge is that a first-degree murder is intentional. Drivers will typically only face first-degree murder charges if they deliberately caused the accident.
Anyone facing these types of serious, life-changing charges should hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who may be able to get charges reduced and/or mitigate the penalties.