Mississippi’s Vehicular Manslaughter and Murder Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives with negligence or recklessness in Mississippi and kills another person may face manslaughter or murder charges.

Unlike many other states, Mississippi doesn’t have a “vehicular homicide” statute that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful killings. However, a Mississippi motorist who causes the death of another person while at the wheel can be prosecuted under the state’s more general homicide laws. Depending on the circumstances, a fatal accident could result in a manslaughter or murder conviction.

OUI manslaughter. A motorist who drives while under the influence in violation of the state’s OUI (operating under the influence) laws and negligently kills another person can be convicted of OUI manslaughter. For purposes of the OUI manslaughter law, “under the influence” means impaired by drugs or alcohol or having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least .08%. And a person acts with negligence by failing to use the care that a reasonable person would under like circumstances.

Manslaughter. A motorist who kills another person while driving with “culpable negligence” can be charged with manslaughter. A person acts with culpable negligence by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to the lives of others.

Second-degree murder. A person commits second-degree murder by knowingly engaging in conduct that is “eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved heart”—meaning the person consciously does something that's extremely dangerous to others.

The difference between manslaughter and second-degree murder is a matter of degree. And the dividing line isn’t always clear. However, in general, second-degree murder requires proof of a more culpable mental state than culpable negligence (the mental state for manslaughter). So theoretically, the more egregious the motorist’s driving, the more likely a jury is to convict of murder.

(Miss. Code. Ann. §§ 63-11-30, 97-3-19, 97-3-47 (2017); Windham v. State, 602 So. 2d 798 (1992).)

Vehicular Homicide Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related homicide conviction depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties are:

  • OUI manslaughter. OUI manslaughter is a felony. Convicted motorists face five to 25 years in prison.
  • Manslaughter. A manslaughter conviction generally carries at least $500 in fines and up to one year in jail or two to 20 years in prison.
  • Second-degree Murder. Second-degree murder carries 20 years to life in prison.

(Miss. Code. Ann. §§ 63-11-30, 97-3-21, 97-3-25 (2017).)

HOW MUCH TIME WOULD YOU ACTUALLY SPEND IN JAIL?

Sentencing law is complex. For example, a statute might list a “minimum” jail sentence that’s longer than the actual amount of time (if any) a defendant will have to spend behind bars. All kinds of factors can affect actual punishment, including credits for good in-custody behavior, “suspended” sentences, and jail-alternative work programs.

If you face criminal charges, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. An attorney with command of the rules in your jurisdiction will be able to explain the law as it applies to your situation.

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney

Murder and manslaughter are serious criminal charges. If you’ve been arrested for a driving-related killing—or any other crime—get in contact with a criminal defense attorney right away. The facts of every case are different. An experienced defense attorney can explain how the law applies to the facts of your case and help you decide on the best plan of action.

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