A Pennsylvania woman now faces up to 20 years in prison after the Supreme Court upheld her third-degree murder conviction. On the day of the incident, the woman and her boyfriend inhaled aerosol dust remover while sitting in a parking lot and again while sitting at a red light. The woman then veered into oncoming traffic and killed a 25-year-old father in a head-on crash. On appeal, the state Superior Court affirmed her third-degree murder conviction and recently, the state Supreme Court upheld that decision.
Normally, DUI cases involving fatalities do not result in murder charges because, although intoxicated drivers may have behaved recklessly by driving under the influence, their actions do not rise to the level of malice necessary to establish murder. In this case, though, the woman’s actions went beyond the ordinary level of recklessness because she knew that the dust cleaner would likely cause her to lose consciousness.
The court’s opinion stated that the woman disregarded a high risk that her actions would cause death or bodily injury. Her actions were so reckless that they could constitute malice and therefore her murder conviction was justified.
Those convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania face up to five-years imprisonment, whereas those convicted of third-degree murder may face a 10- to 20-year sentence. The lower court opined that the 10- to 20-year sentence is appropriate, given the facts of the case — the woman inhaled the dust remover twice before the fatal accident — and the Supreme Court agreed.
The woman argued that the malice necessary to justify her third-degree murder conviction was not present. But, the Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s assertion that there is a difference between driving after drinking or ingesting drugs, which would typically be charged as manslaughter, and driving after ingesting or inhaling a substance that is likely to cause unconsciousness. Though, this may constitute murder. This case establishes that when drivers ingest highly intoxicating substances knowing they will subsequently be unable to operate vehicles safely, they may face murder charges.
Source: Pennsylvania Real-Time News, “Driver who huffed dust remover before fatal crash deserves murder conviction, Pa. Supreme Court says,” Matt Miller, Aug. 22, 2017