What Happens in Drunk Driving Fatality Cases?


Driving While Impaired cases are in-and-of-themselves complicated matters for presentation in court.

When coupled with the loss of another human life, the consequences and potential for punishment(s) necessitate a careful examination of the law, facts and procedural history of the on-scene investigation.

What happens in drunk driving fatality cases may depend on a series of factors, including but not limited to:

  • Direct or Circumstantial Evidence of Impaired Driving
  • Breath or Blood Results
  • Proof or Opinion of Appreciable Impairment
  • Determining whether the fatality was directly or “proximately caused” by Impaired Driving



Black’s Law Dictionary defines Proximate Cause as:

Also known as direct cause. The result of an direct action and cause of loss to property that sets in motion a chain of events that is unbroken and causes damage, injury and destruction with no other interference. The loss is the result of one event.

“Drunk Driving,” as it is commonly called by the general public, is a bit of a misnomer.  While indeed some people charged with Impaired Driving in North Carolina may be “drunk,” the legal standard under N.C.G.S. 20-138.1 is something quite different.

DWI or Driving While Impaired or subject to an impairing substance cases can be proved several different ways by the State of North Carolina.  The prima facie or “first facts” lawyers often refer to for impaired driving, in very basic terms are:


  • Driving a Vehicle
  • On a Highway, Street or Public Vehicular Area
  • Under the Influence of an Impairing Substance*


The North Carolina DWI Pattern Jury Instruction 2015* are a good place to start for an understanding of the law, especially in an area as complex as Impaired Driving.


What might be easily resolved in one case may be a substantial point of contention in other matters


Felony Death by Vehicle is defined by statute as:

(a1)  – A person commits the offense of felony death by vehicle if:

  1. The person unintentionally causes the death of another person
  2. The person was engaged in the offense of impaired driving under G.S. 20-138.1 or G.S. 20-138.2
  3. The commission of the offense in subdivision (2) of this subsection is the proximate cause of the death


SEE MORE:  Murder Manslaughter Cases in North Carolina 


Section (a2) of the Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle statute specifically excludes Driving While Impaired setting forth:

A person commits the offense of misdemeanor death by vehicle if:


Misdemeanor Death by Vehicle 2015


Again, there exists a correlation between the “offense” and the “proximate cause of the death.”  There are instances where one might be in violation of N.C.G.S. 20-138.1 and yet the Impaired Driving was not a proximate cause of the fatality.   The violation of “any State law or local ordinance applying to the operation or use of a vehicle. . .” can be construed broadly.

Again, is important to review the facts and law of any case prior to deciding upon the most appropriate manner in which to proceed.   It also makes sense to speak with an attorney whom is experienced handling such matters.


SEE MORE:  Selecting an Attorney to Help


For a free,  confidential consultation, please call:

Bill Powers
2412 Arty Avenue
Charlotte, North Carolina 28208

Bill Powers has been listed in 2016 SuperLawyers North Carolina Magazine. In calendar years 2012, 2013 & 2014, SuperLawyers further included Bill in the “Top 100” Lawyers in North Carolina. In 2013 Bill was listed as “Top 25 in Charlotte” by SuperLawyers North Carolina.

For Membership Information & Criterion for Inclusion to SuperLawyers North Carolina see: https://www.superlawyers.com/north-carolina/lawyer/Bill-Powers/ccf452c7-eeb6-4f0e-98e4-337804e043e8.html


Powers Law Firm PA in 2016 has been again listed as a “Best Law Firm” by U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT. For Member Info & Criterion for Inclusion see: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/profile/powers-mccartan-pllc/overview/44550

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In 2016 Bill Powers has been included in Best Lawyers of America. For membership info & criterion for inclusion see: https://www.bestlawyers.com/lawyers/bill-powers/78562/
Best Lawyers Award Badge

Bill Powers has also been listed in “Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyers in North Carolina” by The National Trial Lawyers. For member info & criterion for inclusion see: https://www.thenationaltriallawyers.org/profile-view/Bill/Powers/5071/

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