What is Intoxication Manslaughter?

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  • Written By: Mona D. Rigdon
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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The term manslaughter is used to describe the killing of a human being in a way that is considered less culpable than murder under the laws of a given jurisdiction. Intoxication manslaughter is a type of manslaughter in which the death of a person is brought about by an automobile accident in which a driver was under the influence of a mind-altering substance such as alcohol. In order to determine if a crime falls under the heading of intoxication manslaughter in most jurisdictions, a person who is legally intoxicated must operate a motor vehicle in a public place, then cause the death of another individual by accident or by mistake. The terms "vehicular manslaughter" and "vehicular homicide" also can be used to describe intoxication manslaughter in many jurisdictions under certain circumstances.


Intoxication manslaughter can be charged as vehicular manslaughter when the accident occurs in conjunction with a criminal act. Vehicular manslaughter charges can be pursued when someone kills an individual while driving under the influence and commits a separate illegal act, such as negligence or driving without a license. In some jurisdictions, a person who kills someone under these same circumstances may be charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a motor vehicle. Other jurisdictions make intoxication manslaughter a more specifically defined crime in and of itself. For example, in the state of Texas in the United States, intoxication manslaughter can be charged if the perpetrator operates a motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft or amusement park ride or assembles an amusement park ride while intoxicated and thus causes the death of another because of a mistake or accident.

These types of manslaughter charges require less mens rea than other criminal offenses, which means that the state of mind at the time of the incident does not have to be one of malice. There does not have to be intent, as with other forms of murder or manslaughter. The intoxicating substance in question does not have to be an illegal one, nor does it have to be illegally consumed in order for the charge to apply. This means that a person of legal drinking age can be charged the same as a minor who consumed an illegal substance and became intoxicated.

Intoxicated manslaughter is highly publicized, and laws regarding drinking and driving are strictly enforced in many parts of the U.S. Intoxication manslaughter in this format does not exist in many other nations. For instance, a different set of elements must be met in order to charge criminals with gross negligence in England or culpable homicide in Scotland. The focus in some nations is placed on identifying impaired drivers and removing them from roads until they are not impaired.


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