Often, a person who causes a fatal DUI accident in Oklahoma will be charged with first degree manslaughter as a result. Sometimes, however, the charge is not manslaughter, but murder. Last week, two Oklahoma men were charged with second degree murder in separate DUI accidents that left two dead, including a 5-year-old boy.
On Tuesday night, a suspected drunk driver caused two accidents in Tulsa, one of them resulting in the death of a 22-year-old woman. Police reported that around 9:00 p.m., a Ford Fusion driven by Christopher David Mitchell, 27, of Cleveland, struck a motorcycle, throwing both occupants from the vehicle. The driver of the motorcycle and his passenger were subsequently hospitalized in serious but stable condition.
Rather than stopping, police report, Mitchell continued driving, fleeing the scene eastbound at "a high rate of speed" before crashing into a vehicle making a westbound turn from Saint Francis hospital. The driver of that vehicle was killed in the accident.
Tulsa police arrested Mitchell on Friday morning, booking him into the Tulsa County Jail on complaints of leaving the scene of an injury accident and second degree murder. He remains jailed in lieu of $502,000 bond.
On Thursday, Oklahoma City police arrested Robert Earl Mize II, 35, after a pedestrian accident that killed a 5-year-old boy. Police say Mize was driving without a license after a prior DUI complaint, and there was an active warrant for his arrest following his failure to pay municipal fines in that case. Police alleged Mize, who has prior drug convictions, was in possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia at the time of the accident. He was arrested on complaints of second degree murder, causing an accident without a valid license resulting in death, DUI, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is held without bond in the Oklahoma County Jail.
So why would these two men be charged with murder instead of manslaughter?
Under Oklahoma law, one of the elements of first degree manslaughter is an unintentional death that occurs in the commission of a misdemeanor. Because a first offense of DUI is a misdemeanor in Oklahoma, a large number of DUI fatalities are charged as first degree manslaughter.
However, Oklahoma law includes among its definitions of second degree murder any unintentional homicide that occurs during the commission of a felony other than the violent felonies that would elevate the crime to first degree murder (armed robbery, rape, and first degree burglary, for example). Because a second or subsequent DUI offense is a felony, a repeat DUI offender who causes a fatal accident would be charged with second degree murder, as appears to be the case in the Mize crash.
Reports do not indicate whether or not the Mitchell accident was the result of a repeat DUI, but fleeing the scene of an injury accident is a felony under Oklahoma law. Because Mitchell was allegedly actively committing a felony by fleeing the motorcycle accident when he caused the fatality accident, he was charged with second degree murder rather than manslaughter.
Under Oklahoma law, first degree manslaughter is punishable by a minimum of four years in prison; second degree murder is punishable by 10 years to life.