What is “Intoxication Manslaughter”?

Intoxication Manslaughter is a crime specially enacted by the Texas legislature to address incidents where a person has an accident while driving while intoxicated (DWI), and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another individual. The person killed can be a passenger in the driver’s vehicle, the occupant of another car, or a pedestrian walking along the roadway. This crime is a second degree felony which is subject to a penalty range of not less than two, nor more than 20 years’ incarceration in the state penitentiary, and a fine not to exceed $10,000.  

What is Driving While Intoxicated?

In order to be proven guilty of Intoxication Manslaughter, the State must first show that the defendant was guilty of DWI. If the State cannot prove the defendant was guilty of DWI, it cannot prove Intoxication Manslaughter even if there was a serious accident where fatalities occurred. 

A finding of DWI is complete if the State can show that a person was intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place. In this context, “intoxication” does not necessarily mean “drunk” in the normal sense of the word. Intoxication, as defined by the Texas Penal Code, means:

(a) not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or 

(b) having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

This legal definition of intoxication is a fairly low standard. Therefore, a person charged with DWI might feel as though they are perfectly “sober” by their subjective perception of the term, yet be quite intoxicated according to the legal definition.  

The State must also prove the element of Causation!

The State’s burden to establish the crime of Intoxication Manslaughter is not over simply by showing that the driver was guilty of DWI at the time of the fatal crash. The State must also prove that the defendant’s intoxication was a necessary causal factor in the resulting death of the person(s) killed in the accident. In other words, the State must show that but for the intoxication of the defendant at the time of the vehicular accident, the death of the other individual would have not occurred.  

This essential element of the State’s burden of proof can be a critical target of attack during trial by the defense if the defendant is represented by a skilled attorney –  

Example: A person while operating a motor vehicle strikes and kills another person riding a bicycle on a secluded farm-to-market road or highway. The State charges the driver of the vehicle with Intoxication Manslaughter since a blood test showed the driver had an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The evidence at trial, however, also showed that the accident occurred at dusk on a narrow county road with no shoulder and the deceased bicyclist did not have the required lighting, reflectors, and other safety equipment on the bicycle. All of these factors would have made it difficult for any driver to see the bicyclist in the darkness, and thereby deflected the required element of causality away from the intoxicated driver. A jury in this case might decide that even though the driver was indeed intoxicated at the time of the fatal crash, the level of the driver’s intoxication was nevertheless not the controlling factor which actually caused the incident. If so, the driver might then be found “not guilty” of Intoxication Manslaughter.

How can I get more information about this topic?

If you are charged with Intoxication Manslaughter, Intoxicated Assault, DWI, or related crime you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to start work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases. 

If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153 for a free consultation. 

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Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community. 


Mr. Bigham and his staff have provided me with exceptional service. They have gone above and beyond to assist me with every detail regarding my case.

Tracie Corley, Texas<br />

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