There is a common misconception that if a drunk driver is involved in a car crash, they must be responsible, but this isn’t always the case. Just imagine an intoxicated driver was rear-ended by someone while waiting at a red light. In this case, it is obvious the drunk driver would not be at fault. Unfortunately, because many drivers who had a few too many drinks automatically assume they are at fault, they often flee the scene of an accident or confess to causing the crash, either of which can make the situation drastically worse. If you have been involved in an accident while driving under the influence, stay at the scene and contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What Happens When a Drunk Driver Gets in an Accident?
When a drunk driver has been involved in any type of accident, they will generally be charged with a DUI, even if the crash wasn’t their fault. The charges are much more complicated if someone is injured or killed in the accident.
When the intoxicated driver caused an accident resulting in injury, the charges may be increased to a felony, punishable with a lengthy prison sentence. If someone dies in the accident, a drunk driver can even be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, punishable by up to ten years in prison. And if the driver already had a DUI and someone died in an accident they caused, the driver can even face murder charges.
Additionally, many courts will require those convicted of drunk driving to pay restitution to any accident victims, and a conviction in criminal courts can be used as evidence in a personal injury case in the civil courts.
But these sentence increases and victim restitution payments are not applied in cases where the other driver caused the accident. Criminal defense lawyers know this, which is why they often turn to the no-fault defense when there is any question about whether or not a drunk driver caused an accident in California.
Are Drunk Drivers Always At Fault?
In many cases, the police will assume the drunk driver caused an accident if the blame is not immediately obvious. Their “investigation” into fault may involve little more than taking a few pictures and asking the driver they suspect to have consumed alcohol to take a sobriety test.
When you hire an attorney like Peter M. Liss to work on your case though, you may be able to prove the crash was caused by the other person with the aid of investigators and an accident reconstruction expert. The successful application of the no-fault defense can ensure that you will not face any of the enhanced legal penalties associated with a DUI accident that resulted in injury or death.
It is important to remember that you do not need to prove that you were not drunk or were not operating a vehicle when the accident occurred to fight these charges. Instead, the District Attorneys are responsible for proving that you:
- were intoxicated
- violated a traffic law
- your negligent or law-breaking behavior directly caused the car accident
If they cannot prove all three of these factors, you cannot face additional sentencing for DUI resulting in injuries or death. With the no-fault defense, you simply need to show that even if you were driving drunk and even if you violed a traffic law, you didn’t cause the accident.
Arguing no-fault is not a full defense to drunk driving charges. You can still be convicted of a DUI, but you will not face additional penalties for any injuries or deaths related to the crash. If the accident occurred while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs due to an emergency situation, you might have a full defense against the charges. Similarly, if the accident happened before you started to be affected by alcohol you consumed prior to driving, this can also be a full defense.
DUI Accidents and Felony Charges
Even in cases where the accident was the fault of the intoxicated driver and the no-fault defense is hopeless, judges and prosecutors have the discretion to reduce felony charges to misdemeanors. A top DUI lawyer can be critical in encouraging them to do so.
If you were involved in a car crash while drunk under the influence but believe you were not at fault, please call Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation so you may discuss your situation. His main law firm office is located just across the street from the North County courthouse and jail off the 78, while clients in more central areas of San Diego County can schedule a consultation at his Carmel Valley law office just off the I-5.