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Massachusetts G.L. c. 265, § 13 ½: Punishment for Manslaughter While Operating a Motor Vehicle

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265, section 13 ½, sets the punishment for a defendant who has been convicted of manslaughter while operating a motor vehicle or a water vessel while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substance. To punish a person under this statute, the Commonwealth must first prove, and a jury must find, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following:

  1. The defendant was intentionally operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of an unlawful amount of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substance, in violation of G.L. c. 90, § 24(1)(a); or
  2. The defendant was intentionally operating a vessel (e.g., boat or other watercraft) while under the influence of an unlawful amount of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substance, in violation of G.L. c. 90B, § 8A; and
  3. While intentionally operating the vehicle or vessel, the defendant acted wantonly and recklessly, and caused the death of another person.

The purpose of the statute is not to provide the requirements to convict a defendant for manslaughter while operating a vehicle or vessel while intoxicated, but to provide the punishment for any person who is convicted of one of those crimes. As explained below, G.L. c. 265, § 13 ½ provides a minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Related Offenses
  • G.L. c. 90, § 24 (driving while under influence of intoxicating liquor)
  • G.L. c. 90, § 24G (homicide by motor vehicle)
  • G.L. c. 90, § 24L (serious bodily injury by motor vehicle while under influence of intoxicating substance)
  • G.L. c. 90, § 24V (child endangerment while operating a motor vehicle or vessel under the influence)
  • G.L. c. 90B, § 8A (operation of a vessel while under the influence of controlled substances causing serious bodily injury)
Defenses to Punishment Under G.L. c. 265, § 13 ½

A defendant can be punished under this statute only if he is first convicted of manslaughter, and of operating either a motor vehicle or a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances in violation of those specific statutes. It can sometimes be difficult for the Commonwealth to obtain a conviction against a defendant under these circumstances, particularly where the defendant is represented by a skilled defense lawyer. A strong defense strategy may include testimony from expert toxicologists who can show that the defendant was not impaired while operating the vehicle or vessel; testimony from accident reconstructionists who can demonstrate that the defendant – or the defendant’s intoxication – was not the cause of the accident that caused the death of another person; and defense counsel’s artful chipping-away at the evidence that the Commonwealth seeks to introduce against the defendant.

If the defendant is ultimately convicted, this statute makes imprisonment in the state prison for at least five years mandatory. However, a lawyer experienced in criminal defense representation can use mitigating factors to persuade a court that the sentence should be at the statutory minimum, rather than closer to the statutory maximum imprisonment of twenty years. The defense lawyer can also persuade the prison warden and commissioner of correction to grant the defendant temporary release from prison under limited circumstances, including to engage in employment pursuant to a work release program.


Following conviction of vehicular manslaughter or vessel manslaughter resulting from operating under the influence of alcohol, the defendant will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in state prison, or up to 20 years in state prison, and a fine up to $25,000. The statute prohibits the reduction of the sentence to less than 5 years, and prohibits the defendant from being eligible for parole, probation, or furlough, or from receiving a reduction of his sentence for good behavior, until he has served the minimum 5-year term. Additionally, the statute requires that the defendant’s license to operate be suspended for at least 15 years, up to life-long suspension.

Manslaughter and OUI Defense Attorney Stephen Neyman

With over 25 years of experience defending clients in criminal prosecutions, Attorney Stephen Neyman is highly qualified to represent clients charged with manslaughter and operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Attorney Neyman engages nationally renowned experts to assist in the defense of his clients’ cases, and has successfully defended drunk driving and vehicular homicide charges for years. Due to the mandatory minimum sentence imposed by G.L. c. 265, § 13 ½, a strong and aggressive defense to these charges is essential. Contact our office today at 617-263-6800 to speak with Attorney Neyman during a free consultation.

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"We went to trial and won. He saved me fifteen years mandatory in state prison for this case." A.C. Boston, Massachusetts
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"In less than two months Stephen Neyman got my old conviction vacated. I now have no criminal record." Paul W. Boston, Massachusetts