There continues to be a great deal of debate amongst the state and federal legal professionals (and the media in some cases) as to how society should address the crime of Driving Under the Influence (DUI/ DWI) when a death occurs. Some feel that the punishments for the crime of DUI are too lenient, while other feels that the criminal justice system is too harsh on drunk/ drugged drivers. A number of prosecutors across the country have begun to prosecute DUI’s (that result in a death) under the state’s second degree (depraved heart) murder statute. Please view the written opinion for the federal case of United States v. Fleming via Westlaw. You can access Westlaw via the MC library page (scroll down to the letter W and click on Westlaw Campus Research). Once on Westlaw, please place the case citation: 739 F.2d 945 in the search box at the top of the page.
For supplemental information on deaths related to DUI being prosecuted as murder in the second degree, please view the 60 Minutes Youtube film on DUI at the attached 60 Minute program Youtube clip.
After reviewing the case (and the optional film for those who choose to view it), please discuss your thoughts based on what we have learned about the murder/ manslaughter statutes.
1. Please start your discussion by defining what is meant by the deprave heart category of murder.
2. I would also like you to evaluate the issue of depraved heart murder from a theoretical perspective. What are the purposes of punishment in society? Does the use of the murder in the second degree statute meet these legitimate punitive consideration? Is society better served if the offender is prosecuted under an involuntary manslaughter statute (or manslaughter by vehicle or vessel statute in some states)?
3. If you were a prosecutor, which perspective would you take when charging an offender in relation to the fact pattern presented in the United States v. Fleming case?