As per California PC 191.5b, DUI vehicular manslaughter occurs when you, as a defendant, commits a drunk driving offense and gets involved in additional negligent conduct that results in the death of another individual. The penalties for a conviction under this charge are harsh and life-changing which is why you should be careful about your next move whenever you cause death after an accident caused by DUI. San Diego DUI Attorney is here to help when you are facing DUI cases relating to vehicular manslaughter. We have highlighted some of the following issues to help you understand the crime better.
Overview of Vehicular Manslaughter While Under the Influence
California PC 191.5b defines ordinary negligence as doing the following:
Breaking the driving under the influence law by driving while intoxicated
While driving, you or the defendant commits an infraction, misdemeanor, or a lawful act that results in death.
The infraction or misdemeanor is committed out of ordinary negligence
Your act of negligence results in a fatality or fatalities
Elements the Prosecution Must Prove in PC 191.5b Charges
As said in the above definition, PC 191.5b is violated when someone violates the DUI rule, acts negligently, and the act of negligence results in death. For the prosecution to demonstrate that you violated this law, they must prove the following elements:
You Operated the Car While Intoxicated or Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
In California, intoxication is considered as operating a car with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher under VC 23152b. The BAC levels are different for specific categories of drivers. For commercial drivers, you are deemed intoxicated if you are found operating a vehicle with a body state whose blood alcohol content is .04% or higher. Persons below the age of 21 are considered to be intoxicated if they are found operating a motor vehicle with a BAC of .05% or above. Also, operating a car while under the influence of a combination of drugs and alcohol is deemed a violation of the law. The zero-tolerance law, on the other hand, will apply to underage drivers who operate a vehicle with a BAC level of .01% or more.
Therefore, if you are arrested in any of the above situations and the prosecution attorney can show you were under the influence as per the law, then you are likely to be convicted of violating PC 191.5b. But, it is good to note that if you hit and killed a person while driving under the influence, but within the legal limit, you can only be charged with violation of PC 192(c).
The prosecution can prove you are guilty too if they can show that you drove while intoxicated by prescription drugs as long as they can show that the prescription drugs impaired your ability to drive reasonably. The question of whether the drugs are legal or illegal is not of concern in this case.
You Committed an Offense that is Not a Felony While Driving
The prosecution will successfully prove you are guilty of violating PC 191.5b if, during the time you drove, you committed a misdemeanor or infraction or any lawful act that is likely to cause fatality. Keep in mind showing that you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol is not enough to show a violation of PC 191.5b. The prosecuting party must establish that there was an unlawful act or a lawful act that could result in the death of another person on top of driving under the influence. Additionally, it's critical to note that illegal conduct doesn’t have to be a dangerous offense. The prosecution needs to show the act was dangerous under the circumstances. If you were speeding or driving on the wrong lane, it is enough to show that the action was dangerous, thus qualifying as DUI vehicular manslaughter.
You Acted with Ordinary Negligence
If the prosecuting party can show that you failed to use reasonable care to prevent reasonable harm to another person, you will be guilty of this crime. You are deemed to have acted negligently if:
You engage in an act that a sober person would not have involved in under the same circumstances.
Fail to do something a sober or reasonable person would have done under similar circumstances.
You Caused the Death of Someone Else
The court will find you guilty of DUI vehicular manslaughter if the prosecutor can show that there was a combination of driving under the influence and ordinary negligence that led to the death of another person. The demise must be a direct or probable consequence of your negligent act. Also, it’s paramount to note that your actions don’t need to be the only cause of death.
Penalties for PC 191.5b
DUI vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler. Your criminal past and the situation surrounding your arrest will determine if you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony. In the event you are charged with misdemeanor PC 191.5b, the penalties include:
If you are sentenced to summary probation, you don’t have to schedule regular meetings with your probation officer. Summary probation is inactive, and there is no need to report to the probation office too.
When convicted of this crime, the court might require you to be incarcerated in jail for 364 days.
Being convicted of misdemeanor PC 191.5b subjects you to fines of as much as $1000.
If the prosecution prefers felony charges against you, the penalties are stricter. They include:
When charged with a felony PC 191.5b and convicted, you incur fines, not beyond dollars ten thousand.
Felony DUI vehicular manslaughter conviction is subject to incarceration for sixteen months, twenty-four or thirty-six months based on the situation of your case.
This form of probation is an active one. Here, you are required to meet your probation officer regularly and pay visits to the probation office too. If you, as the offender fail to observe these terms of probation, the judge will revoke probation, and you will be forced to serve the original sentence.
In case you are convicted of a felony PC 191.5b, the DMV will suspend your license for as much as twelve months. It means you will lose your driving privileges and in the event you are found operating a vehicle on a suspended license, you will face additional charges of violating VC 14601. Note that you cannot lose your driving privileges if you are convicted with a misdemeanor DUI vehicular manslaughter.
Defending Against PC 191.5b Charges
Where fatal crashes occur involving drunk drivers, the public and law enforcement agencies are quick to point fingers on the driver who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If you are caught up in such a situation, you are likely to feel that your fate has been sealed and that you are going to jail or pay hefty fines. However, the truth is that you shouldn’t feel hopeless if you find yourself in a fatal accident, and you are intoxicated. All you need to do is call a San Diego DUI attorney immediately. An experienced DUI attorney will help fight the DUI vehicular manslaughter charges you will be facing using the following legal defenses:
You were Not DUI at the Time of the Fatal Crash
One of the arguments you and your San Diego DUI attorney can use is rejecting the evidence showing that your BAC levels were beyond the legal limits. The attorney can begin by evaluating the breathalyzer used to take your breath test to find out if it is faulty. He or she can also request maintenance records of the test devices used to collect the evidence about your BAC levels. If the attorney finds out the devices are not in good condition and uses an expert witness to show that the equipment could be faulty and the test results are invalid, the results will be removed from the evidence against you which means your charges will be dropped.
Your San Diego DUI attorney can also challenge the evidence showing that you showed signs of impairment. Signs of impairment include watery eyes, confusion, and slurred speech. If the prosecutor and arresting officer claim that these are the signs that made them conclude you are intoxicated, you can argue that those were no signs of impairment. Instead, they were as a result of an illness, fatigue or shock resulting from the fatal accident.
Also, you can fight the charges by challenging the validity of the BAC results. Title 17 provides guidelines that law enforcers should adhere to when conducting BAC tests. If your attorney finds out that any of the guidelines provided were violated, he or she can challenge the test results thus getting the charges against you reduced or dismissed.
You didn’t Act Negligently
Operating a vehicle involves quick decision making. Some of these decisions might have adverse effects like causing an accident. Your attorney can argue that the choice you made that caused the accident would have been made by a reasonably careful person under a similar situation. That way, you can prove that you didn’t act negligently thus avoiding PC 191.5b conviction.
The Victim’s Death Wasn’t Direct or a Natural Consequence of your Negligence
Establishing the cause of death in a crash involving a driver under the influence is not a piece of cake for the prosecution. It is not easy to establish the cause of death in a car crash. With that said, you can use this as a defense and acknowledge that an accident occurred leading to death, but your negligence did not cause it. Instead, it was caused by a third party’s negligence, natural forces beyond your control or negligence by the decedent. To make sure this argument holds in court, you can use an accident construction expert to paint a picture of the cause of death.
You Acted Reasonably Under the Circumstances
California PC 191.5b requires that you act using the same care and judgment a sober person would exercise if they were in your situation. If you can argue you acted the same way a reasonably careful individual would act, then you are not guilty of this offense.
PC 191.5b and Related Offenses
Some offenses are related to PC 191.5b. The offenses include:
If you kill someone in California while driving under the influence, the prosecution will charge you with Watson Murder or DUI if:
You are a repeat DUI offender
And during your prior DUI conviction, you were either given Watson advice or educated about the dangers of driving under the influence.
DUI murder is prosecuted under PC 187, which makes a conviction for this offense to carry harsher penalties than a conviction under PC 191.5b. If you are being charged with Watson murder, you can negotiate for a lesser sentence like DUI vehicular manslaughter if you can prove that you are not a repeat convict or didn’t receive Watson advisement.
A Watson advisement is a warning on the dangers posed to human life when driving under the influence and that causing death while DUI can result in murder charges. Multiple factors can lead to you being charged with DUI murder. Such factors include:
Driving with a BAC of .15% or above
Taking part in speed contests
Felony reckless driving charges while evading police
A conviction for DUI murder will attract penalties that include:
No more than 15 years’ state imprisonment
Fines not beyond ten thousand dollars
A strike under the three strikes law for causing death due to DUI
When it comes to fighting charges of DUI murder, your attorney can use the same defense used in fighting PC 191.5b charges.
Vehicular Manslaughter/ Gross Vehicular Manslaughter
The offense is codified under PC 192 (c), and the difference between it and PC 191.5b is that it doesn’t require the defendant to be under the influence when the crash occurs. As such, if you are being charged with DUI vehicular manslaughter, your attorney can have the charges reduced to PC 192 (c) if the evidence showing you exceeded the legal BAC limit is weak. PC 192 (c) is also a wobbler. A felony conviction will attract no more than six years in prison. A misdemeanor conviction, on the other hand, carries a penalty of no less than twelve months with no driving privileges suspension.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
You will be charged with violation of PC 191.5a if you kill a person while driving under the influence, but you are accused of acting with gross negligence. When proving you committed the crime, the prosecution has to prove the following elements:
You violated California BAC legal limits
You operated a car while under the influence of alcohol/drugs or a combination of the two.
You negligently committed an offense that is not a felony that could lead to the death of someone else.
You acted in gross negligence that could cause great bodily injury or risk of death
You didn’t value human life when you acted
PC 191.5a is a felony. if convicted for this offense, the punishment includes:
Formal or felony probation
Four, six or ten years’ state incarceration
As much as ten thousand dollars’ fines
PC 191.5a is never charged as a misdemeanor because of gross negligence and disregard of human life.
PC 191.5a is related to PC 191.5b in that if you have been charged with violation of PC 191.5a, your city DUI attorney can have the charges reduced to PC 191.5b. However, for this to happen, the attorney must demonstrate to the court that the evidence presented by the prosecution isn’t enough to show that you acted in gross negligence. If the argument is successful, the act will be considered ordinary negligence, which has lesser penalties.
Three Strikes Law and DUI Vehicular Manslaughter
The law punishes repeat offenders in California. It focuses mainly on felony DUI charges. If you already have a strike and you are convicted with felony PC 191.5a, your prison sentence is going to double. If you have prior strikes and you are convicted with a felony PC 191.5a, you will be subject to as much as twenty-five years in prison.
You can be accused or charged with this crime if you intentionally drive while under the influence of knowing that your action increases the risk of death. You are guilty of the crime if, at the time of committing the offense, you knew that it would endanger the lives of people. But to be convicted, the prosecution must prove that you knowingly and intentionally acted with disregard for human life.
Find a DUI Attorney Near Me
If you have any questions on vehicular manslaughter while under the influence, contact San Diego DUI Attorney. We are committed to ensuring that you don’t face the detrimental penalties of being convicted for this offense. Our attorneys have a full understanding of DUI laws and will do everything to ensure that you are acquitted of the charges, or they are reduced. They will evaluate the evidence presented by the prosecution and challenge it using customized defense strategies for a favorable outcome. Contact us today at 619-535-7150 to speak to one of our city DUI attorneys.