Missouri’s Vehicular Manslaughter Laws and Penalties

A motorist who drives negligently or recklessly and kills another person may face manslaughter charges.

Unlike many other states, Missouri doesn’t have a “vehicular homicide” statute that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful killings. However, a motorist who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel can be prosecuted under Missouri’s more general involuntary manslaughter laws. And Missouri law imposes enhanced penalties for certain DWI (driving while intoxicated) offenses that result in the death of another person.

Second-degree manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of second-degree involuntary manslaughter for killing another person while driving in a “criminally negligent” manner. Basically, a person acts with criminal negligence by unknowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to others. The person’s action or inaction must amount to a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would do under like circumstances.

First-degree manslaughter. A motorist can be convicted of first-degree involuntary manslaughter for killing another person while driving in a “reckless” manner. Basically, a person acts with recklessness by knowingly doing or failing to do something that creates a substantial risk to others. The person’s action or inaction must amount to a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do under like circumstances.

So, the difference between second-degree and first-degree manslaughter has to do with the driver’s awareness of the risk. With second-degree manslaughter, the driver should be—but isn’t—aware that the behavior poses a risk to others. And first-degree manslaughter involves the driver being aware of but disregarding the dangerousness of the conduct.

Driving while impaired. A motorist who drives in an “intoxicated condition” and acts in a criminally negligent manner, causing the death of another person, is subject to enhanced DWI penalties. “Intoxicated condition” means the motorist’s ability to operate a vehicle is impaired by drugs or alcohol.

(Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 562.016, 565.024, 565.027, 577.010 (2017).)

Penalties

The consequences of a driving-related killing depend on the circumstances. But generally, the possible penalties include:

  • Second-degree manslaughter. Second-degree involuntary manslaughter is a class E felony. A conviction carries up to four years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.
  • First-degree manslaughter. First-degree involuntary manslaughter is a class C felony. Convicted motorists are looking at three to ten years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.
  • DWI-related killing. Generally, a motorist who kills another person while driving in an intoxicated condition is guilty of a class C felony. A conviction carries three to ten years in prison and a maximum $10,000 in fines.

(Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 558.002, 558.011, 565.024, 565.027, 577.010 (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

The consequences of killing another person while driving can be serious. 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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