Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular Manslaughter 2017-12-10T11:37:50+00:00

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Vehicular Manslaughter

California law has three separate vehicular manslaughter offenses:

1) Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter or not involving drugs or alcohol

2) Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, or drugs or alcohol are involved

3) Gross Vehicular Manslaughter or with alcohol or drugs while engaged in grossly negligent conduct.

Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter

This can be found in California Penal Code Section 192(c):

(c) Vehicular

(1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

(2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

(3) Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550, where the vehicular collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person. This provision shall not be construed to prevent prosecution of a defendant for the crime of murder.

This section shall not be construed as making any homicide in the driving of a vehicle punishable that is not a proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, or of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner.

“Gross negligence,” as used in this section, shall not be construed as prohibiting or precluding a charge of murder under Section 188 upon facts exhibiting wantonness and a conscious disregard for life to support a finding of implied malice, or upon facts showing malice, consistent with the holding of the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson, 30 Cal. 3d 290.

Regarding Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter, or without drugs or alcohol, you can be charged under California Penal Code 192(c) if you meet the following elements:

  • You drove unlawfully, or
  • Drove lawfully but in a dangerous fashion
  • That resulted in a fatality, or
  • Knowingly caused a fatal accident for financial gain (staging an accident)

You can be charged with vehicular manslaughter by engaging in seemingly innocuous acts, but negligently, that happened to cause a fatality such as:

  • Texting
  • Hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk while your attention was distracted
  • Speeding
  • Making an unlawful turn

Even if charged with manslaughter, this offense can still be treated as a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances of your case and if you have a criminal record, especially previous DUI convictions.

As a misdemeanor, your maximum jail time is one year. If a felony, you face from 2 to 10 years in state prison.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

The companion offense to vehicular manslaughter is Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated under California Penal Code 191.5(b). PC 191(b)-(g) reads:

191.5. (b) Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

(c) (1) Except as provided in subdivision (d), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in violation of subdivision (a) is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.

(2) Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in violation of subdivision (b) is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months or two or four years.

(d) A person convicted of violating subdivision (a) who has one or more prior convictions of this section or of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 192, subdivision (a) or (b) of Section 192.5 of this code, or of violating Section 23152 punishable under Sections 23540, 23542, 23546, 23548, 23550, or 23552 of, or convicted of Section 23153 of, the Vehicle Code, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life. Article 2.5 (commencing with Section 2930) of Chapter 7 of Title 1 of Part 3 shall apply to reduce the term imposed pursuant to this subdivision.

(e) This section shall not be construed as prohibiting or precluding a charge of murder under Section 188 upon facts exhibiting wantonness and a conscious disregard for life to support a finding of implied malice, or upon facts showing malice consistent with the holding of the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson, 30 Cal. 3d 290.

(f) This section shall not be construed as making any homicide in the driving of a vehicle or the operation of a vessel punishable which is not a proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, or of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner.

(g) For the penalties in subdivision (d) to apply, the existence of any fact required under subdivision (d) shall be alleged in the information or indictment and either admitted by the defendant in open court or found to be true by the trier of fact.

Elements of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

This includes the following:

  • You were driving under the influence of alcohol or a drug, and
  • Committed an unlawful act or were driving lawfully but dangerous while under the influence, and
  • Your negligent conduct caused a fatality

Proof of Intoxication

To be charged under this code section, the prosecution must prove your blood alcohol content (BAC) was at least 0.08 percent or show other conduct indicating you were impaired. You cannot be charged with both DUI and Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.

Proof of Negligent Conduct

You also must have acting negligently. Negligence is acting in a way that a reasonably cautious person under similar circumstances would not have acted, such as speeding well over the speed limit or following another car too closely at a high rate of speed.

Also, your negligent conduct must have been a substantial cause of someone’s death. It may not be the only cause, but be more than just a trivial one.

This code violation is also a “wobbler” or one that can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000.

A felony carries 16 months, 2 or 4 years in state prison and a fine up to $10,000. If another person in the same accident suffered great bodily injury, you face an additional sentence to be served consecutively of 3 to 6 years

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter

If your conduct that resulted in a fatal accident was especially egregious, and you were impaired, you will almost certainly be charged with a felony and serve state prison time under PC 191.5(a):

191.5. (a) Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

Examples of gross negligence are fleeing a police officer, racing on the freeway, traveling 100 miles per hour or weaving in and out of traffic at high speed.

If convicted under this code section, you face 4, 6 or 10 years in state prison. Should you have at least two prior DUI convictions or a previous PC 191.5 offense, you could be incarcerated from 15 years to life. If anyone else suffered serious bodily injury in the accident, an added sentence of 3 to 6 years is imposed and is to be served consecutively.

You also face having a strike on your criminal record. A second strike will double your sentence while a third results in a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years to life.

Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter

  • You did not cause the accident

If some other factor was the major or only cause of the fatal accident, then you cannot be found criminally culpable for any vehicular manslaughter. Your attorney may use accident reconstruction experts to show that you were not at fault.

  • You were not under the influence

Following a fatal accident, the investigating officer might conclude based on your breath odor or finding empty beer bottles in your car that you were driving impaired. In a fatal accident, you can be forced to take a blood test but the test must be administered according to established guidelines or protocol and a chain of evidence demonstrated. Sometimes, the test is not administered until hours later or is not administered at all. In these cases, a criminal defense lawyer can challenge the test results or argue lack of evidence of impairment.

  • You did not drive negligently

Merely because an accident occurred does not mean your actions were negligent. In some cases, the victim was driving negligently and caused the accident, or there is no proof that you were driving other than with due care. In some cases, there is no evidence of who was driving at the time.

Retain a California Criminal Defense Lawyer

Being involved in a fatal accident and being charged does not mean you should plead out or be resigned to the consequences. Often, there are defenses available that your attorney can use to get your charges dismissed or pled down to a lesser offense. Contact a California criminal defense lawyer if you face vehicular manslaughter charges.