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Drunk Driving Deaths: Accident or Murder?

Drunk Driving Deaths: Accident or Murder?

In 2005, 7-year-old Katie Flynn was gruesomely decapitated when a drunk driver smashed into the limousine that was carrying her as well as her newlywed parents and grandparents. The driver of the limo, Stanley Rabinowitz, was killed on impact, and the remaining passengers all sustained life-threatening injuries. Martin Heidgen, the drunk driver, sustained only minor injuries.

The only thing more controversial than the accident itself was the Flynn vs. Heidgen case. The prosecution took the charges to a new level, arguing fervently that Heidgen should be charged with murder instead of manslaughter, a fight that proved fruitful. Heidgen was convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence of 18 years to life in prison, a verdict that was unheard of for DUI deaths.

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes on CBS featured the tragic story of Katie Flynn, almost four years after the incident, to bring up the new controversy about the punishment for drunk driving deaths. Many prosecutors, with passionate support from the families of victims of drunk driving crashes, are adamant about changing DUI killings to a capital crime in the United States. One of the major disputes revolves around whether or not 25-to-life or the death penalty is too serious a punishment for the crime.

Many also argue that the conviction of murder is unjust because drunk drivers do not act with the intent to kill. Without proof of premeditation or intent, the act does not constitute murder according to the legal definition of the crime. In the case of Flynn vs. Heidgen, the prosecution found a way around that, however, by labeling the offense ‘depraved indifference murder’. They were able to convince the jury that Heidgen showed a depraved indifference to human life when he made the decision to drink and drive. A common response to this verdict says that when intoxicated, a person cannot make sound decisions, and therefore should not be held responsible for the events that pursue. The obvious refutation to that follows that if a person is aware of the fact that alcohol impairs judgment, as most people are, they are completely responsible for their actions since they consciously made the choice to disregard the possible consequences.

The verdict on the dispute itself is not out yet, but the question is still up in the air: Should DUI killings be equivalent to premeditated murder, or would this be a seriously flawed change to the U.S. legal system?

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7 comments

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4:33AM PST on Feb 28, 2013

There is NEVER a valid reason to consume alcohol.
There is NEVER, EVER any valid reason to drive a vehicle after consuming alcohol.
In the event of someone being killed or injured by a driver who has consumed alcohol, the driver, irrespective of the quantity of alcohol consumed, should be prosecuted for MURDER or attempted murder and face the appropriate legal penalties for their crime.

7:21PM PST on Feb 24, 2013

When I conducted a class for repeat DUI/DWI offenders, the average number of convictions per student was 21 and I had a class of 35 students. Thirty-Five people had 735 convictions in my class.

You can not stop these people from driving. They will pay cash for a vehicle, a few hundred dollars and they will drive. Locking them up is no answer, we have 5% of the worlds population and have 25% of the worlds prisoners.

One of the most surprising things is the number of people who drive drunk between 6 AM and 9 AM. At times there can be more drunk drivers out on the road during the day than at night!

8:07AM PST on Feb 22, 2013

My grandmother, 58, went for an evening walk on a Florida beach.
Drunks, joyriding on the beach WITHOUT headlights, hit her and killed her. The driver was fined
and free to go! My vote? MURDER.
My beloved father, only 44 at the time, was hit and killed by drunk drivers on his way home from
an evening of fishing. The man who MURDERED my father never even stood trial.

When a person decides to drink before driving he/she MUST be held accountable for it.
If serious injury occurs, that person should be jailed for Assault with a deadly weapon.
If that person kills someone, it's MURDER.

We must strengthen the laws we already have regarding drunk drivers (and pilots, train
engineers, anyone else in public or private transportation) and make changes in the penalties
they face. Who knows? If someone KNOWS he'll get a life sentence for drunk driving to endanger, it's a good bet he'll stay home until sober.....at least we all can hope so.

6:45PM PST on Feb 21, 2013

My grandmother, a mother of five, was killed by a drunk driver who lived another 40 years. He was charged $5000. I don't drink and drive because it is a decision that can easily be made before the first drink. I support attempted manslaughter or murder when someone is caught drinking and driving and real prison time if someone is murdered.

12:53PM PST on Jan 29, 2009

If you're going to use "intent" as the defining factor for murder, then you have to consider this: If a seriously drunk person was asked 'Could you kill a person if you drove your car in the wrong lane at 70 mph" (as Martin Heidegen did) even the most sloshed individual would likely answer yes. Being drunk doesn't mean you don't know right from wrong; it means you don't care about it. And that, I believe, is the route to intent. The young man who was responsible for this action knew, despite his drunken state, that driving the wrong way on an expressway was life threatening. His drunkeness rendered him insensitive and unconcerned to the danger he posed -- and that's depraved indifference to human life in my book.

He consumed the alcohol of his own free will; nobody poured it down his throat. And so his indifference was willingly assumed.

Murder is the appropriate charge and verdict.

12:08PM PST on Jan 14, 2009

i like the idea behind this. though at times some punishments seem a bit harsh for the crime - $250,000 for stealing music... - i think in most situations the punishment hasn't been nearly enough to deter people from committing most crimes. i think harder punishments are needed. maybe eventually more people will start being responsible again, if only just because they fear the consequences.

5:51PM PST on Jan 13, 2009

If killing while drunk is legal. Then whats to stop assassins from using the method?

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