In the state of California, you may be convicted of vehicular manslaughter if the following are true.
- You committed an unlawful act (not a felony) or a lawful act in an illicit manner while operating a vehicle,
- You acted with negligence or gross negligence, and
- Someone was killed as a result of your actions.
If you killed someone while committing a felony, you may be charged with a California felony murder (Penal Code 187).
Further, if you killed someone under these conditions and were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Penal Code 191.5).
Gross negligence vs. ordinary negligence
Prosecution and sentencing for vehicular manslaughter are dependent on whether you are accused or gross of ordinary negligence. Gross negligence is the willful, conscious disregard for the need to use reasonable care, which is likely to cause injury or serious harm to another person. Ordinary negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care.
If the prosecution is able to prove that you acted with gross negligence, you will be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter (Penal Code 192(c)). This offense is known as a “wobbler,”meaning it can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. The maximum misdemeanor sentence for this offense is one year in county jail and the maximum felony sentence is six years in state prison. You may also face fines of up to $1,000 for a misdemeanor and up to $10,000 for a felony. Additionally, if you are convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may revoke your driver’s license. You will not be permitted to get your license reinstated for at least three years following the date of revocation.
If the prosecution determines that you acted with ordinary negligence, you will be charged with a California misdemeanor and will be sentenced to a maximum of one year in county jail and may face a fine of up to $1,000.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (Penal Code 191.5)
If you caused the death of another person while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If you are found guilty of this offense without gross negligence, you will be charged with a wobbler. This is punishable by up to one year in county jail or a prison sentence of 16 months, two years, or three years.
If you are found guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence, you will be charged with a felony and may face a prison sentence of 4, 6, or 10 years.
If you are a repeat offender with verifiable knowledge of the dangers of driving while intoxicated, you may face further penalties under the Watson Admonition (see DUI Homicide: Watson Murder for more information).
Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain (Penal Code 192(c))
This occurs when an accident is deliberately caused with the intention of making a false insurance claim or other type of financial incentive. You may be charged with this offense if the following are true.
- You knowingly caused a collision while operating a vehicle,
- You did so with the intent of making a false insurance claim for financial gain, such as automobile insurance fraud,
- You caused an accident with the intent of defrauding an insurance company or other party, and
- The collision resulted in the death of another person.
If you are found guilty of vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, the DMV may revoke your driver’s license. You will not be permitted to get your license reinstated for at least three years following the date of revocation.
A vehicular manslaughter charge is a serious crime, but you always have the right to a comprehensive defense from a skilled attorney. At San Diego DUI Attorney our lawyers have been successfully defending vehicular manslaughter cases for almost 30 years. Your attorney may raise the following defenses on your behalf.
You did not act with negligence or gross negligence.
Negligence and gross negligence can be very difficult to prove in court because they rely on proving that you acted out of accordance with “reasonable behavior.”This term is quite subjective and is often difficult to define.
Your actions did not directly cause the death of another person.
Even if you were driving in a negligent manner, the prosecution may not be able to prove that you were responsible for a person’s death. An experienced attorney will be able to challenge the prosecution’s account, often with the assistance of a reconstruction expert witness.
You were not operating the vehicle at the time of the incident.
It is often difficult to prove that you were in physical control of the vehicle at the time of the incident, especially if there were no witnesses.
You encountered a sudden emergency and acted reasonably under the circumstances.
According to California law, if an individual faces an immediate and unexpected emergency, he or she is expected to use the same judgment a reasonable person would use in that situation. A skilled attorney can argue that your behavior does not constitute negligence because it falls under reasonable behavior in an emergency situation.
You were not intoxicated at the time of the incident (if applicable).
Your attorney may be able to discredit the assumption that you were under the influence at the time of the incident. There are many ways to frame this defense, including proving that the police did not follow proper procedure while assessing your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and challenging the accuracy of the field sobriety tests (see Top 15 DUI Defenses for more information).
Contact our office today at 619-535-7150 for a FREE DUI consultation.