If a person who is drunk while driving causes the death of another person, then this person has committed a felony that in Michigan is punishable by up to 15 years in jail.
OWI Causing Death in Michigan means that the accused voluntarily decided to drive knowing that they had consumed liquor and/or a controlled substance and might be intoxicated; and their operation of the motor vehicle caused the death.[i]
While the maximum is 15 years, it is nevertheless possible to receive more than 15 years in jail, and such a sentence would usually be caused by a composite of several factors, including for example, a prior felony record (making the persons subject to habitual enhancement).
Other factors that can increase a sentence would be more than one injured party. For example, if the crash kills both the driver and passenger or passengers and in this case the sentences could be stacked.
It is also true that laws and their application vary from state to state. According to ChicoER (Chico California):
A 26-year-old man was sentenced to 19 years to life in state prison for a 2010 crash on Highway 99 north of Chico that killed three.
The sentence includes 15 years to life for second-degree murder for the deaths of Rogelio Herrera, 29, Sarai Alvarez, 31, and one of Alvarez’s children, Christian Zaizar.
Howell also ordered that Barnes serve an upper-term sentence of four years for felony drunken driving causing injury with priors for injuring Emanuel Zaizar Alvarez. Barnes had two previous DUI convictions from Tehama County.
It is worth noting that had this same crash occurred in Michigan then depending on the County and Judge a similarly draconian sentence could be handed down.
Sentences for Drunk Driving Causing Death in Michigan always result in a term of years. The overall length of the sentence will depend also on the degree of intoxication. If the degree of intoxication is great enough, and/or the behavior of the driver “wanton” enough, then the driver could even be facing a charge of second degree murder.
In Michigan there are two other categories for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) cases involving death generally fall into three categories; including Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle and Second-Degree Murder.
Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle
- To convict a defendant of Manslaughter with a Motor Vehicle, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant operated the vehicle in a grossly negligent manner and substantially caused the death of another.[ii]
Second –Degree Murder
- To convict a defendant of Second- Degree Murder the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an act of the defendant caused the death of another with malice but without justification or excuse.[iii]
[i] MCL 257.625 (1), (3), or (8)
[ii] People v. Lardie, 452 Mich. 231 (1996).
[iii] People v. Goecke, 457 Mich. 442 (1998).