Some people who were behind the wheel in a fatal vehicular accident can face homicide charges. Under Illinois law, these cases typically involve charges of involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide. While these are serious charges, they fall short of a first-degree murder charge.
That’s why it was somewhat surprising to read that an Illinois man was recently charged with first-degree murder after a fatal drag-racing accident.
According to news reports, the man was involved in a crash with another vehicle in Marion County on May 4 when he reportedly ran a red light. His car crashed into another vehicle that was turning left into an intersection. The other car burst into flames and its driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
The man and a passenger were injured and treated in a hospital. Police said the driver had been driving at high speeds while under the influence of alcohol. They said surveillance video showed the man was racing with another vehicle just before the collision.
The man faces a long list of charges. In addition to first-degree murder, he faces aggravated DUI charges and charges of reckless homicide. The driver of the other vehicle in the alleged race faces reckless driving charges.
First-degree murder charges
First-degree murder is generally regarded as the most serious type of murder charge, and carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. While many of us may think a first-degree murder charge always involves cold-blooded, premeditated murder, in fact there are other scenarios in which the charge can apply.
- To prove first-degree murder, the prosecution must show that the defendant:
- Intended to kill or cause great bodily harm, or
- Knew that what they were doing had a high likelihood of killing or causing great bodily harm, or
- Was attempting to commit a forcible felony at the time of the killing
As you can see, the defendant’s intent to kill isn’t always the deciding factor in what makes a homicide count as first-degree murder.
A prosecutor might argue that a person who drag-raced through city streets at high speed while drunk knew that what they were doing was highly likely to result in an accident that could seriously injure or kill someone. If the prosecutor convinces the court of this, a jury may find the defendant guilty of second-degree murder.