Vehicular manslaughter is one of the most serious types of driving crimes in California. A conviction may have severe consequences especially with respect to the penalties and the effects that a criminal record could have on your reputation and the ability to secure employment. If you or someone you know has been arrested or is facing a charge of vehicular manslaughter, then you need to immediately retain an attorney to help you avoid the severe penalties that a conviction can bring.
At Long Beach Criminal Lawyer, we understand that any action that results in the loss of life of another is very serious and even with that, there are innocent people who are wrongfully charged. The sooner you call us the sooner we will be able to find out what really transpired in order to build a solid defense. We work with professional investigators and expert in scene reconstruction to attack the prosecution’s case and evidence. It is common for law enforcement to act too quickly and file heavy-handed charges when a person dies in an auto accident. More often than not, police miss substantial amounts of evidence which could be used to acquit you from these charges or reduce false charges. We have the know-how to obtain a favorable outcome even in the most difficult cases. Contact us today at 562-304-5121 and let us show how we protect our own.
Legal Definition of Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter is defined under California Penal Code Section 192(c) as driving a vehicle in a negligent manner, but with no malice and the action results in the unlawful death of another human being. The act in question can be a legal act committed in a careless manner or an illegal act that is not a felony in California. There is a significant difference between simple vehicular manslaughter and gross vehicular manslaughter in that, simple vehicular manslaughter involves operating a motor vehicle with “ordinary negligence” while the gross vehicular manslaughter involves operating a vehicle in a “grossly negligent” manner, which in most cases involves intoxication with drugs or alcohol. Gross vehicular manslaughter is a felony charged under PC 192(c)(1).
Vehicular manslaughter is different from Watson murder or vehicular homicide, which is charged as a second-degree murder. This simply implies that while vehicular manslaughter is considered to be one of the most serious driving crimes in California, there are other charges that are even more severe. Vehicular manslaughter usually occurs when a driver drives in a reckless or inattentive manner or breaks a traffic law. Examples include driving while talking on the phone, texting, grooming, running a red light, or driving while intoxicated. Also, a driver may inadvertently kill another person by crashing into another vehicle with the intent of collecting an insurance claim after the accident. It is important to note that you can still be charged with vehicular manslaughter even if the person who lost his or her life was a passenger in the vehicle you were driving. It is vehicular manslaughter for as long as there was a criminal negligence that resulted in the loss of another person’s life.
Elements of the Crime
In order to convict you of PC 192(c) vehicular manslaughter, there are elements of the crime that the prosecution is required to prove beyond any reasonable doubt. These elements include:
- You committed either an infraction, misdemeanor, or a lawful act in an unlawful manner while driving a vehicle. Under the circumstances, the act you committed was likely to cause death
For you to be convicted, the prosecutor must show that your conduct was either a misdemeanor or infraction or a lawful act committed in a manner. The misdemeanor or infraction may include a number of offenses such as talking on your cell phone, texting, or grooming. These are acts that are dangerous to human life under the circumstances. It is important to note that if the act you committed was a felony and it resulted in the death of another person, you may instead be charged with murder under the felony-murder rule.
- You committed the act either with ordinary negligence or gross negligence
Ordinary negligence is a lower level of culpability that results in misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. You act with ordinary negligence when you do not use reasonable care to prevent predictable harm. Therefore, you are considered to be negligent if you do not act like a reasonably careful person would if faced with the same issue.
Gross negligence, on the other hand, is more than an ordinary error in judgment, inattentiveness, or carelessness. You are deemed to have acted in gross negligence if your action was so reckless that it posed a high risk of great bodily injury or death and any reasonable person would have been aware that the action would create such a risk. Gross negligence is a real disregard for human life and this means that an individual who acts with gross negligence acts in a much different way from how a reasonable person would act when faced with the same issue.
Another person lost his or her life as a result of your act
For you to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, the prosecutor must prove that your action was the direct, natural, and probable cause of the death. If the death was as a result of an intervening factor that was not directly related to your conduct, it may be difficult for the prosecutor to prove the element of causation. However, the prosecution is not required to prove that the only cause of death was your gross negligence. What he or she is required to show is that it was a substantial factor in causing the death of another person. For example, John is driving to work and speeds in order to avoid being late. He runs a red light, crosses a double yellow line and strikes a pedestrian with his car. The pedestrian is left with serious injuries and lying in the middle of the road. Another vehicle runs over the pedestrian causing his death. Although John’s car did not kill the pedestrian directly, the illegal act of speeding, running a red light and carelessly entering the other lane was a substantial factor in causing the pedestrian’s death, even if there was another cause.
Possible Penalties for Gross Negligence
Vehicular manslaughter is always a very serious crime whose sentencing and punishment depends on your criminal history and the circumstances of the offense. It can either be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter involves ordinary negligence while felony vehicular manslaughter may involve gross negligence or the intent for financial gain/insurance purposes.
A misdemeanor conviction for vehicular manslaughter carries the following consequences:
- A maximum of 12 months in county jail
- A fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000)
- Misdemeanor (summary) probation
A felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter carries the following consequences:
- 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison
- A fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000)
- Felony (formal) probation
A felony conviction under PC 192(c)(1) and PC 192(c)(3) will result in your driver’s license revocation by the California DMV. Your license will only be reinstated 3 years from the date of revocation. If your license is revoked, you will not be allowed to drive during the 3-year period. If you drive, you will face additional charges under Vehicle Code 14601 VC driving on a suspended license.
Also, your sentence may be enhanced if you fled the scene of the accident. This means that you can be charged with vehicular manslaughter and hit and run under Vehicle Code 20001. If you fled the scene of the accident, you will face an additional 5 consecutive years in state prison.
Vehicular manslaughter combined with DUI
The penalties you face become significantly more severe if convicted of vehicular manslaughter and DUI for the same case. You can be charged with a felony “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” under PC 191.5(a). This crime is punishable by 4 to 10 years in state prison. You also face an additional three to six years if there are other individuals who suffered great bodily injury. This offense will also result in a strike on your record pursuant to Penal Code 1192.7.
Additionally, if you are arrested for vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence, you could be charged with Watson Murder, which is a second-degree murder under PC 187. However, in this case, the prosecution must prove that you had “malice aforethought.” This means showing that you knew that you put the lives of other people in danger by driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs and yet you chose to do it anyway. In most cases, this affects individuals who have a prior DUI conviction since they are taken through DUI classes that teach about the dangers of DUI. A conviction of Watson Murder is punishable by an imprisonment of 15 years to life and a fine not exceeding $10,000.
Possible Defenses Against the Charge of Vehicular Manslaughter
When facing a vehicular manslaughter charge, you should act immediately by contacting an experienced attorney who will fight for you. There are many possible defenses that your vehicular manslaughter attorney at Long Beach Criminal Lawyer can apply in challenging each element of the crime. This can result in the charge being dismissed or at least reduced. Here are some successful defenses we can raise on your behalf:
- Your actions were not negligent
You can only be convicted of PC 192(c) violation if the prosecution can prove that you acted with ordinary negligence or gross negligence. Prosecutors usually have a difficulty proving negligence especially with the fact that the definition of a “reasonable person” is pretty subjective and hard to describe. When driving, everyone is expected to make quick decisions, which may ultimately turn out to be good ones or bad ones that can be said to be negligent. Your attorney may be able to successfully argue that you committed no illegal action, you did not act with criminal negligence, and everything that happened was simply an accident and not your fault. Also, your attorney may get the charges and potential penalties reduced by arguing that your behavior was merely negligent and not grossly so.
- Your actions did not cause the death
You can only be convicted of PC 192(c) violation if your actions were the substantial factor in causing the death of another person. A substantial factor, in this case, means more than a trivial and does not have to be the only factor that led to the death. If the prosecution cannot show the relationship between your actions and the death of the victim, it is highly likely that the charge will be dismissed.
It is challenging to sort out cause and effect in cases involving vehicle accidents. Even if you acted negligently or committed a driving crime, that does not prove that your actions caused the death. It could be the other driver, cyclist, or pedestrian was negligent, or the accident was caused by a mechanical problem or bad weather conditions. An experienced vehicular manslaughter defense attorney can challenge the prosecution's account of the event that led to the fatality by working with experts in accident reconstruction.
- You were not the driver
It is possible for you to be charged with vehicular manslaughter just because your vehicle was involved in an accident. It could be that you had loaned your vehicle to a family member or friend and the police did not find occupants of the car when they arrived at the scene. Your attorney can work to find an alibi that will be used to show that you were not at the scene of the accident. If this is the situation you are in, it is imperative to speak with your attorney first before giving the police any information.
Contact Us Today for Help
At Long Beach Criminal Lawyer, our experienced vehicular manslaughter defense attorneys are always ready to come to your defense in your hour of need. We will build you a solid defense to challenge the prosecutor’s case and evidence. We are dedicated to obtaining favorable results even in high-stakes cases. If you or someone you know is facing these charges, get a free initial consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys anytime 24/7/365 by calling 562-304-5121. We will be there when you need us.