Essay: Should Drunk Drivers be Charged with Murder

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Should individuals who kill another with their car be charged with murder? This essay argues that they should not be, or at least that they should not be charged with first-degree murder for the crime of first-degree murder in those countries whose legal system is based on English common law requires that murderers intend to kill their victims. That requirement of intent sets first-degree murder apart from other forms of homicide. To understand why killing someone with a car – even when one has intentionally gotten drunk – is different from shooting someone with a gun, we must consider both the phenomenon of drunk driving and something about the nature of criminal intent.

Thus we may first ask: Why do people slug down several drinks and then get into their cars? There are probably as many different reasons as there are different drunk drivers, but in general people may be said to take mood-altering drugs (and this includes both legal ones like alcohol as well as illegal ones likes Ecstasy) for a dual combination of reasons.

The first of these is that their emotional problems seem to be insurmountable on their own and drugs offer the quickest possible route to feeling better. Of course, drugs only mask symptoms and the drugs themselves (especially when combined with certain behaviors like driving) are often extremely dangerous. But to the person in emotional distress, sometimes the short-term lure of drugs is more than enough to get them to use whatever drug is handy.

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