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We know that drunk drivers cause deaths all the time – some 30,000 each year in this country. But is that murder? According to the law books in many states, it is – of a sort. A recent case in Winston-Salem shows that a murder charge is a definite possibility if you kill someone while driving drunk in North Carolina.

Last year, according to news reports, Roberto Jose Lemus Martinez was driving drunk the wrong way on U.S. 52. Police reports say he crashed his SUV into a Camry with three people in it. Jean Lawrence High, 80, was killed in the crash. Recently Martinez was indicted on a charge of second-degree murder for his role in High’s death.

Second-Degree Murder: Yes, It’s Intentional

First-degree murder is a charge we all know well from Law & Order: intentional, premeditated, with malice aforethought. The grand jury, however, is not saying that this crime was premeditated.

Second-degree murder is intentional, though, and with malice aforethought. One might wonder why killing someone while driving drunk would be considered an intentional crime. The offender doesn’t start out with the intention of killing another person. But the fact is, impaired driving is a conscious decision, one that disregards the well-known dangers to others on the road. You can’t get behind the wheel while drunk and claim that you don’t intend to do others harm – it’s obvious to everyone that drunk driving ends up doing harm every day. The legal definition of “malice” includes an utter disregard for another’s welfare.

Different states’ laws use different language – some call it “extreme  indifference.” California calls it “implied malice.”

In North Carolina it’s an act “done in such a reckless and wanton manner as to manifest a mind utterly without regard for human life and social duty.”

We can’t think of a better description of drunk driving that results in death. As long as there are those who are without regard for human life and social duty, some drunk drivers will be facing a charge of second-degree murder.

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