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What Happens if You Kill Someone by Accident When You Were Drunk Behind the Wheel?

Posted by Tom Holland | Apr 01, 2022 | 0 Comments

Driving under the influence is a serious crime in South Carolina, as it should be. Should you accidentally and unintentionally kill someone when you were drunk behind the wheel, you will face vehicular manslaughter charges, which is why you should immediately speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney about your case.

What is vehicular manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter is also referred to as vehicular homicide, intoxication manslaughter, or felony DUI causing death. Vehicular manslaughter occurs when you kill another person who was either a pedestrian, riding a bicycle, in another vehicle, or in your vehicle while you were driving.

Here in South Carolina, you may hear the terms “felony DUI” and “reckless vehicular homicide” or “vehicular manslaughter” used interchangeably. However, here are the differences between them.

Felony DUI occurs when an individual is charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and:

  • Acted in a negligent manner behind the wheel (broke traffic laws or caused an accident)
  • Caused substantial or fatal injury to another person

Reckless vehicular homicide occurs when another person dies as a result of another's actions behind the wheel. However, this does not require that you be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The most significant difference between the two charges is the penalties.

What are the penalties for vehicular manslaughter in South Carolina?

The penalties for this crime range from fines of $10,100 to $25,100 and/or one to 25 years in prison.

Penalties for felony DUI depend on whether the driver caused substantial bodily injury or death to the victim.

For substantial bodily injury, penalties include:

  • Mandatory prison time ranging from 30 days to 15 years
  • Fines from $5,000 to $10,000
  • Driver's license suspension for the length of prison term, plus three years upon release

For deadly injury, penalties include:

  • Mandatory prison time ranging from one to 25 years
  • Fines from $10,000 to $25,000
  • Driver's license suspension for the length of prison term, plus five years upon release

What happens if you are in a fatal accident in South Carolina?

If you have caused a fatal accident, law enforcement will want to determine if you have been drinking. You may be given a field sobriety test (FST) at the scene of the accident if you were not seriously injured. South Carolina does not permit breath tests being administered on the side of the road, so a chemical breath test will be administered at the police station after you are taken into custody, or you will be taken to a medical center for a blood draw.

What happens when you are arrested for vehicular homicide?

Generally, if you are arrested for vehicular manslaughter (or any crime in SC), you will be booked at the police station or the county's jail. This includes taking your fingerprints and your photo, doing cavity search, and looking for outstanding warrants. Up to 48 hours later, you should have your bond hearing, and the judge will set your bond. After this, another hearing is set where a judge will address any administrative concerns. A second hearing is then set, where you will enter a plea of “not guilty” or “guilty.”

Note: if police attempt to question you about what happened at any time, do not answer. Request an attorney immediately. Anything you say can be used against you.

It is important to understand that being charged with vehicular manslaughter does not automatically bring a guilty verdict. However, this is a serious criminal charge that can change your life instantly. That is why you need to fight the charges immediately with the help of a Fort Mill or Rock Hill criminal defense attorney.

What are common defenses to vehicular homicide charges?

There is nothing stopping you and your attorney from mounting a defense against vehicular homicide charges in South Carolina. You just need to know the best and most strategic defense applicable to your situation. Some common defenses include the following:

  • Illegally obtained evidence. It's possible that your blood alcohol content level was tested illegally. Your attorney can fight to have it thrown out, even if you were over the legal limit of 0.08 at the time of the crash.
  • Pre-existing condition. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you might be able to argue that it contributed to the crash and not that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • The crash was unrelated to drugs or alcohol. You can make the claim that drugs and alcohol did not contribute to the crash and that other outside factors led to the accident.

Not all of these defenses will be permitted in South Carolina courts, which is why you should always speak with a criminal defense attorney when charged with a DUI offense. Your attorney's job is to launch a full investigation into your case and determine whether any of your rights were violated. Our legal team also works to reduce your charges or have them dropped altogether. We also consider alternative sentencing programs and applications to have your license restored.

Remember, you are never alone and an arrest never means a conviction. Let an experienced lawyer help.

If you were arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter, it is in your best interest to schedule a consultation with Holland Law, LLC, in York, Lancaster, or Chester County. You have too much to lose not to. Call our office at 803-219-2630 or complete our contact form to schedule a consultation today. We maintain offices in Fort Mill and Rock Hill to better serve you. Don't hesitate to get in touch as soon as possible.

About the Author

Tom Holland

Experienced Divorce, DUI, and Criminal Defense Attorney While I've been primarily focused on the practice of divorce and family law for the past decade, my experience as a criminal prosecutor has continued to serve my clients well. I previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster Cou...


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