Josh Brent: Intoxication Manslaughter or Second Degree Murder?

Josh Brent, a professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys, has been charged with the crime of “intoxication manslaughter.” The victim, Jerry Brown, was a passenger in Brent’s car when Brent, allegedly fueled by alcohol, drove well in excess of the speed limit, hit a curb and flipped his car over.

Manslaughter is a form of illegal homicide. Unlike murder, which generally requires an intent to kill, the crime of manslaughter is based on a voluntary but reckless act that leads to another person’s death. In this instance, Brent’s criminal liability would be based on his voluntarily drinking alcohol to such a degree that his driving was a reckless act.

If it turns out that Brent was legally drunk, prosecutors might charge him with the more severe crime of second degree murder. Second degree murder is appropriate when an unintended killing is the result of gross recklessness. Brent was convicted of DUI in 2009, about 3 years before Brown’s death. The prior DUI makes Brent’s decision to drink and drive even more reprehensible, and may constitute gross recklessness that elevates his crime to second degree murder. Sadly, his “celebrity status” as a professinal football player may discourage local prosecutors from charging him with murder.