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Vehicular Manslaughter

In the unfortunate case that someone died as the result of your DUI Incident, there are a number of crimes that you could have been charged with.  Depending on the evidence against you, and the facts of your case, you may have been charged with a common DUI.  Typically, however, when a death results from a DUI accident, a charge of Second Degree “Watson” Murder, and/or Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated is common.

We understand that DUI accident can be an extremely overwhelming situation.  When a death is involved the situation only becomes more intimidating.  The charges you face will be severe, and could have an impact on your personal, and professional, life for years to come.  If you were recently involved in a DUI accident is is strongly advised that you consult with an experienced attorney right away.  This article is intended to give you an idea of what to expect if you have been charged with Vehicular Manslaughter or Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.  It will also touch on the more severe crime of Watson Murder.

If after reading this article, you feel we can be of service to you, contact the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm as soon as possible to set up a FREE consultation. Our Chief Trial Attorney, Vincent Ross, has over 29 years of experience, and has handled over 11,000 criminal defense cases.  Our experienced defense team knows what it takes to help you through this intimidating process, and will treat your case with the attention it deserves. 

Call the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm today at 619-535-7150 for your FREE DUI consultation.

Vehicular Manslaughter – California Penal Code 192

There are several types of Vehicular Manslaughter (“VM”).  Each is defined in California Penal Code 192.

Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence – Penal Code 192(c)(1)

To be convicted of VM with Gross Negligence, the prosecution must prove the following:

  1. While operating a motor vehicle, you committed an infraction, a misdemeanor, or legal act that might cause death;
  2. Under the circumstances, the act was dangerous to human life;
  3. You acted with gross negligence; and
  4. Another person died as a result of the act.

As indicated above, this crime requires you to commit an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a legal act that might cause death.  For example, someone who loses control of their vehicle, because they are texting and driving, and causes the death of another driver, could be charged with this crime.  Note, that if the underlying crime is a felony, it is more likely that you will be charged with a more serious crime.

Additionally, you need to act with “gross negligence”.  This requires a showing of something beyond “ordinary negligence”.  A grossly negligent act creates a high risk of serious bodily injury, or death.  Further, a grossly negligent act must be an act that a reasonable person would realize creates such a risk.  For example, attempting to pass a car by crossing onto the wrong side of the road, at a blind turn, and striking another vehicle head on, could amount to gross negligence. 

Lastly, VM with Gross Negligence requires that you caused the death of another person.  In other words, the death must be the probable, natural, and direct result of your actions.  The question to ask is whether a reasonable person would understand that death is a likely outcome?

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(c)(2)

As the name suggests, Misdemeanor VM does not require the driver to be acting grossly negligent.  The elements are as follows:

  1. While operating a motor vehicle, you committed an infraction, a misdemeanor, or legal act that might cause death;
  2. Under the circumstances, the act was dangerous to human life;
  3. You acted with “ordinary negligence”; and
  4. Another person died as a result of the act.

As you can see, the only difference between Penal Code 192(c)(1) and Penal Code 192(c)(2) is the degree of negligence with which the driver acts.  All that ordinary negligence requires is that you fail to act as a reasonably prudent person would.  For example, something as simple as speeding could amount to ordinary negligence. 

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gail – Penal Code 192 (c)(3)

This form of VM is less common.  It requires:

  1. That you knowingly participate in, or cause, an accident while driving;
  2. With the intent to defraud the insurance company by falsely file an insurance claim to collect money; and
  3. The accident results in a death.

As you can see, this is a very specific crime, and it requires the prosecution to prove quite a bit with regard to the intent of the driver.  Essentially, this crime is an attempt to commit insurance fraud that results in a death. 

 Vehicular Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(c) – Penalties

As with all crimes, the penalties for a VM conviction will vary depending on the specifics of the case.  Also, as you would imagine, the penalties also depend on which subsection you are convicted under. 

Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence – Penal Code 192(c)(1) – Penalties

Like many of the crimes discussed on our website, VM with gross negligence can be brought as either a misdemeanor or a felony charge.  This will usually depend on the prior history of the driver, and the specific facts of the case.  

If charged with the misdemeanor offense, you can expect a penalty including the following:

  • A maximum fine of $1,000;
  • Some period of summary probation; and/or
  • A maximum sentence of one (1) year in county jail.

Alternatively, if you are charged with a felony, the penalties become more severe:

  • A maximum fine of $10,000;
  • Some period of formal probation; and/or
  • A maximum sentence of six (6) in state prison.

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(c)(2) – Penalties

This crime carries essentially the same maximum penalties as the misdemeanor offense above:

  • A maximum fine of $1,000;
  • Some period of summary probation; and/or
  • A maximum sentence of one (1) year in county jail.

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain – Penal Code 192(c)(3) – Penalties

This crime will always be brought as a felony charge.  As such, the penalties are more severe:

  • A maximum fine of $10,000;
  • A maximum sentence of ten (10) year in county jail.

Vehicular Manslaughter – Suspension of Driver’s License

A conviction for VM for financial gain, or VM with gross negligence will also result in your driver’s license being revoked by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.  Your license will be revoked for a period of at least three (3) years.

Vehicular Manslaughter – Defenses

If you have been charged with any of the offenses discussed above, it is extremely important that you consult with an experienced defense attorney as soon as possible.  There are a number of arguments that can be argued to reduce the charges against you, and/or prove your innocence.  Some of the more common defenses include:

Lack of Causation

As discussed above, in any VM case, the resulting death must be caused by the defendant’s negligence.  Just because a death resulted, does not necessarily mean you were the cause of it.  It could have been the result of the victim’s own negligence, or have been caused by some third party.  This is why our defense team will, in some cases, use an accident reconstruction expert.  In many cases, especially if alcohol is involved, the police report will assume the intoxicated driver was at fault for the accident.  Using an independent reconstruction expert allows us to better determine the actual cause of the accident.  

Lack of Negligence

Unfortunately, in some cases, tragic accidents occur, and nothing can be done to avoid them.  It is entirely possible that you were driving as a reasonably prudent driver would, and were still involved in an accident.  In such a case, you should not be convicted of VM.  For example, if you swerved to avoid a cyclist, and hit another car, you may have been acting reasonably even though you arguably caused the accident.   

Similarly, if charged with VM with Gross Negligence, your attorney can argue to have your charge reduced to simple VM.  The line between negligence and gross negligence can be extremely fine, and the two can be difficult to distinguish.  This can be an effective strategy considering the difference in the penalties for the two crimes.   

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Penal Code 191.5

If you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the course of your accident, it’s likely that you were instead charged with the crime of VM While Intoxicated. 

Therefore, in addition to the elements discussed above, VM While Intoxicated also requires the following elements to prove intoxication:

  1. The driver’s ability to operate their vehicle was impaired as a result of alcohol consumption;
  2. The driver’s BAC was greater than .08%; or
  3. The driver’s ability to operated their vehicle was impaired as a result of drug use.

Like VM, VM While Intoxicated can involve either negligence or gross negligence. 

VM While Intoxicated (Without Gross Negligence) carries a maximum penalty of one (1) year in county jail, or up to three (3) years in state prison.

If gross negligence is involved, the charge will be brought as a felony.  If convicted of the felony charge, the maximum prison sentence will be ten (10) years.

As a side note, it is worth mentioning that you cannot be convicted of both VM and VM While Intoxicated. This is because VM is a lesser included offense of VM While Intoxicated.

Related Crime – DUI Murder (Watson Murder) – Penal Code 187

As you would guess, DUI Murder is a more serious crime than VM While Intoxicated.  DUI Murder, or “Watson Murder”, is essentially a charge of Second Degree Murder.  You are likely to be charged with Watson Murder if the following are true:

  1. While driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol;
  2. You cause the death of another person;
  3. You have a prior DUI offense; and
  4. You are aware of the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.

Typically, the fourth (4th) element is proven by something known as a “Watson Advisement”.  When someone is convicted of a DUI offense they often issued a Watson Advisement that puts them on notice of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, and that doing so can lead to a murder charge. 

At the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm, we have the experience and resources required to defend your Vehicular Manslaughter charge.  Contact us right away to schedule your FREE DUI Consultation.

Our defense team is extensively familiar with the law, and knows what it takes to achieve the best possible results.  At your FREE consultation, we will be able to plan out the best course of action for defending your case.  We will also explain to you what you can expect to endure throughout the process of your case. 

As you know, a charge of Vehicular Manslaughter is very serious. You will want the best defense team available to defend your rights.  There are a number of arguments can make to defend against both the DUI, and Manslaughter, aspects of your case.  We will look for any inconsistencies in the police report, and question the validity of any breath or blood tests.  We can defend against the accusations that you were driving negligently, or grossly negligently, and/or that you were the legal cause of the resulting death.  The police report often assumes that the intoxicated party was responsible for the accident.  In our experience, this is not always the case. If necessary, we will even consult with an accident reconstruction expert to determine the true cause of the accident. Lastly we will do everything in our power to get the penalties you face reduced.  In light of the serious offenses and penalties you are facing, we strongly encourage you to call us as soon as possible.  The sooner you have an attorney, the sooner your rights will be protected.       

Call the San Diego DUI Attorney Law Firm today at 619-535-7150 for your FREE DUI consultation.

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