Vehicular Manslaughter

The California PC 192(c) outlines the crime of vehicular manslaughter. You might face charges under this statute if you cause another individual's death while operating a vehicle. For these charges to apply, you should have caused the death during the commission of an unlawful act, but the act should not be a felony. The unlawful act should also not be one that is likely to cause death. If you kill someone in the process of committing a felony, you will face murder charges under PC 187. If you commit vehicular manslaughter while drunk or under the influence of drugs, you'll face charges under PC 191.5(a) or 191.5(b). Vehicular manslaughter could have devastating penalties depending on the circumstances surrounding your case. If you have been accused of vehicular manslaughter in California, the Pasadena Criminal Attorney can help you create a convincing defense to fight the charges.

Meaning of Vehicular Manslaughter According to California Law

For a crime to qualify as vehicular manslaughter, it must occur in the course of operating a vehicle. This fact is what differentiates vehicular manslaughter from other crimes like involuntary manslaughter or voluntary manslaughter.

There are three primary forms of vehicular manslaughter, according to California law:

  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence
  • Misdemeanor or ordinary vehicular manslaughter
  • Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain

California PC 192(c)(1)

The California law PC 192(c)(1) explains the crime of vehicular manslaughter when gross negligence is involved. The prosecutor can't accuse you under PC 192(c)(1) unless he or she proves several criminal offense elements. Before accusing you of violating PC 192(c)(1), the prosecutor must show that:

  • You committed an infraction or misdemeanor offense while operating a vehicle. The charges may also apply if you engaged in a lawful action in a way that might lead to death.
  • Under the circumstances, the act you engaged in posed a risk to life
  • You acted in gross negligence while committing the act
  • Your actions led to another individual's death

As outlined in the elements under PC 192(a)(1), you can face charges as long as the activities you engaged in isn't a felony. You could also face charges if you commit a legal or lawful act but in a dangerous manner. For example, you could be chatting on your phone while driving when you hit an object. Your friend seated on the front seat dies instantly. Engaging texting while driving is an infraction. Therefore, you could face accusations for the crime of vehicular manslaughter.

Legal Definition of Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is an important element of vehicular manslaughter offense under PC 192(c)(1. If the prosecutor is unable to prove gross negligence, he or she can only accuse you of vehicular manslaughter as a misdemeanor. What constitutes gross negligence? This is a form of negligence that exceeds normal carelessness, error in making a judgment, and inattentiveness. You could engage in gross negligence for acting in a way that endangers a person's life, or that could cause significant bodily injury. It should be evident that a regular or reasonable individual would have been aware that acting that way would endanger human life. When determining whether you acted in gross negligence, the court considers how an ordinary individual would have behaved in your situation. The prosecutor must prove that you disregarded the implications of your actions or acted in disregard of peoples' lives. 

Leading to Another Individual's death

For a conviction under PC 192(c)(1), your gross negligence should have caused another individual's death. If no person died due to your negligence, you can't be guilty under PC 192(c)(1). The victim's death should have been direct or natural and probable consequences of your actions. It means that if you had acted reasonably at the time of committing the act, you would have known that the act could cause death.

It's necessary to note that for you to be guilty under PC 192(c)(1), your negligence does not necessarily have to be the primary cause of death. The prosecutor only has to show that your actions led to the victim's death substantially.

California PC 192(c)(2)

The California PC 192(c)(2) outlines the offense of ordinary vehicular manslaughter, also known as misdemeanor voluntary manslaughter. The prosecutor has to prove several factors to charge you under California PC 192(c)(2):

  • You engaged in a misdemeanor offense or infraction while operating a vehicle. You could also have unlawfully carried out a legal or lawful act.
  • The act in which you engaged is dangerous to a person's life
  • You acted in ordinary negligence while committing the act
  • Your actions led to the demise of another individual

A violation under California PC 192(c)(2) only requires you to act in normal or ordinary negligence, and you didn't portray gross negligence. Normal or ordinary negligence implies that you didn't use reasonable care while engaging in an act that caused another individual's death.

California PC 192(c)(3)

California PC 192(c)(3) outlines the crime of vehicular manslaughter for financial gain. You could be guilty under this statute if:

  • You knowingly caused or engaged in a collision while driving
  • You engaged in an intentional collision to make an insurance financial gain. This means that you intended to commit car insurance fraud
  • You intended to defraud another party or an insurance company
  • The collision led to the demise of another individual

Therefore, if you wreck your car intentionally and kill a person in the process, you could be guilty under California PC 192(c)(3). The prosecutor will only need to prove that your actions were intentional and that you intended to make a financial gain.

The Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter

The punishment for the crime of vehicular manslaughter, as explained by California law, differs depending on the form of vehicular manslaughter you commit.

Penalties for Violating PC 192(c)(1)

A conviction under PC 192(c)(1) is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor is free to use his or her discretion to charge the offense as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecutor will consider your past history and details of the case.

For a misdemeanor violation of PC 192(c)(1), the consequences include:

  • Summary probation, also known as misdemeanor probation
  • Jail time of up to one year in a county jail in California
  • A fine of not more than $1,000

For a felony violation of PC 192(c)(1), the penalties are:

  • A formal or felony probation
  • Imprisonment in state prison for two, four, or six years
  • A fine of not more than $10,000

Penalties for Violation of PC 192(c)(2)

The penalties for a misdemeanor or ordinary vehicular manslaughter according to California law are:

  • A summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A jail term in a county jail in California for a period not exceeding one year
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000

Penalties for Violation of PC 192(c)(3)

It is always a felony to commit a violation under PC 192(c)(3) for your financial gain. This offense could attract a hefty fine that does not exceed $10,000.  You could also serve four, six, or ten years in a state prison in California.

Suspension of Your Driver's License

The California Department of Motor Vehicles may revoke your driver's license after a conviction under PC 192(c)(3). In addition to vehicular manslaughter for your financial gain, vehicular manslaughter with extreme or gross negligence could also lead to suspension of your driver's license. After the license suspension, you would have to wait for three years from the revocation date to reinstate your driver's license. If you drive your vehicle on a suspended license, you will face further charges under the California VC 14601.

Common Legal Defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter Accusations

Accidents are inevitable and may occur due to many causes. At times, prosecutors and law enforcement officers are quick to accuse drivers with vehicular manslaughter even when an accident did not happen due to negligence. It's not uncommon for drivers to face unjustified and unfair vehicular manslaughter accusations.

You should not despair after an accusation of vehicular manslaughter. Instead, you should contact an attorney immediately. Your criminal attorney can use several defenses to fight the charges that the prosecutor brings against you. Developing the right defense strategy could lead to a reduction or even dismissal of your vehicular manslaughter accusations.

Some of the defenses that would come in handy in fighting vehicular manslaughter accusations are:

  • Your actions did not portray negligence
  • The victim did not die due to your negligence
  • You acted in the heat of an emergency, and your actions were reasonable

Your Actions Did Not Portray Negligence

In vehicular manslaughter cases, negligence, both ordinary and gross, can be challenging to prove. The court considers a standard or a reasonable person when determining whether you acted negligently. This definition of reasonable behavior is not only hard to understand but also subjective. There's no clear-cut or objective definition of what constitutes negligence. When driving, you have to make prompt decisions. What law enforcement officers or the prosecutor consider as negligence could have been an error in judgment. You should not face negligence charges for making a mistake or a wrong judgment. 

If the prosecutor charges you with vehicular manslaughter with extreme or gross negligence, your attorney can negotiate for a plea bargain. Your attorney may point out that your conduct portrayed negligence but didn't qualify as gross negligence. Therefore, instead of a conviction of vehicular manslaughter with extreme or gross negligence, the prosecutor may charge you with vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence.

The Victim Did Not Die Due to Your Negligence

Vehicle accidents are often complicated, and it is difficult to identify the real cause of the accident or the victim's death. You may have operated your vehicle with negligence, and another individual died. However, the prosecutor may not be able to prove 100% that the victim's death was due to your negligence. The victim's death could have occurred due to his or her negligence or the negligence of a third party. If the prosecutor can't prove that your negligence caused the victim's death, you can't face charges for the crime of vehicular manslaughter.

A competent criminal attorney will challenge the prosecutor's evidence. Therefore, you don't have to accept every detail of the prosecutor's evidence regarding what happened. Your attorney could even engage an accident reconstruction professional to help show what happened at the time of the accident.

You Acted In The Heat of an Emergency, and Your Actions Were Reasonable

You may defend yourself by pointing out that you behaved in the face of an emergency. When you face an emergency, the law requires you to act the same way a reasonable individual would act under similar circumstances. Therefore, if you used the same care a reasonable individual would have used in your situation, the prosecutor can't accuse you of vehicular manslaughter.

For instance, you might have hit an object while trying to avoid a collision with another vehicle. You can point out that your actions do not qualify as negligence because you had to take action to prevent the vehicle collision.

Offenses Related to Vehicular Manslaughter under California Law

Several offenses under California law are related to the crime of vehicular manslaughter. Instead of vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor may charge you with the related offenses. The prosecutor may also charge the related offenses alongside vehicular manslaughter. Some of the related offenses are:

Vehicular Manslaughter While Drunk/ Under the Influence

The California PC 191.5(b) outlines the crime of vehicular manslaughter while investigated. You could face charges under this statute if you operate a vehicle while intoxicated, and you engage in negligent behavior. For you to be guilty under this law, someone should have died because of your drunk driving and negligent conduct.

The prosecutor would have to prove several elements to charge you with vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence:

  • You operated a vehicle intoxicated with alcohol or drugs
  • While driving, you committed an additional offense, a misdemeanor or an infraction offense, or you committed a lawful act that could cause death
  • At the time of committing a misdemeanor or the infraction, you acted with ordinary negligence
  • Your negligent behavior caused another individual's death

The crime of vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence is a wobbler. Therefore, the offense could be a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the prosecutor's discretion. When deciding whether to charge the offense as a misdemeanor felony, the prosecutor considers the facts of your case. The prosecutor will also consider your past criminal history.

For a charge of ordinary vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence as a misdemeanor, the consequences are:

  • A summary or misdemeanor probation
  • A jail time not exceeding one year in a county jail in California
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000

If the prosecutor decides to charge the offense as a felony, the penalties will be:

  • A formal or felony probation
  • Imprisonment in state prison for 16 months, two years, or four years
  • A fine that does not exceed $1,000

A conviction under PC 191.5(b) could lead to the loss of your driver's license. The license suspension will apply if the prosecutor charges the offense as a felony. The California Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your driver's license for one year. You will face further charges if you drive your vehicle on a suspended license.

You can fight charges for the crime of vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence by stating that you were not intoxicated at the time of the accident. You can state that the signs of intoxication were due to an illness or due to fatigue. Your attorney could help you challenge the validity of your BAC results if the arresting officers did not follow the right procedures while conducting the DUI testing. Other defenses for this offense are similar to the defenses used to fight vehicular manslaughter charges.

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Drunk/ Under the Influence

California PC 191.5 explains the crime of gross vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence. You may violate pc 191.5 if you drive while intoxicated, you act in gross negligence, and another individual dies due to your negligence. The prosecutor will have to prove several facts for him to accuse you of gross vehicular manslaughter while drunk/ under the influence:

  • You drove a vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs
  • While doing that, you committed a misdemeanor, an infraction offense, or a lawful act that could cause death
  • You committed the infraction or the misdemeanor with gross negligence
  • Someone else died due to your gross negligence

Acting in gross negligence means that you acted in a manner that poses a high risk of death or risk of bodily injury. It should be evident that a reasonable person in your situation would have known that such actions would pose a risk to life. Gross negligence is more than an error in judgment or ordinary negligence. Acting in gross negligence means that you portrayed a reckless or careless disregard of people's lives. The judge considers the level of your intoxication and nature of your actions at the time of the accident.

You will only face charges under PC 191.5 if another individual dies due to your negligent actions. The death should therefore be a direct or a natural and probable consequence of your actions. Your actions do not have to be the sole cause of the victim's death. They only need to have contributed significantly to the victim's death.

A conviction under PC 191.5(a) is a felony offense. The penalties for this conviction are a formal felony conviction. The court may also impose imprisonment in a state prison in California for four, six, or ten years. You may also have to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000. You might face stricter penalties if you have prior convictions for similar or related offenses.

DUI Murder/Watson Murder

The alternative name for Watson's murder is DUI murder. This offense is second-degree murder, according to California law. You might face Watson's murder accusations if you have a previous DUI conviction, and you cause another individual's death while driving while intoxicated. The prosecutor must prove that you acted with implied malice to be able to convict you of DUI murder:

  • The prosecutor must show that you committed an intentional act that led to another individual's death. Drugged or drunk driving is an intentional act, especially if you are a repeat offender
  • The nature of the consequences of your deliberate act was dangerous to life
  • You acted with reckless disregard of the results of your actions

You don't need to have had an intent to kill when committing an offense like in the case of first-degree murder. Lack of intent to kill is what differentiates DUI murder from first-degree murder. You could face a conviction as long as the prosecutor shows that you acted with implied malice.

The prosecutor may show that you acted with implied malice if:

  • You had read or signed a Watson admonition for a previous DUI conviction
  • You had attended DUI school for a previous DUI conviction
  • You possessed adequate knowledge of the risks of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol

The penalties for a Watson murder conviction in California include fifteen years imprisonment in a state prison in California. The court may impose a fine that does not exceed $10,000. You might acquire a criminal strike on your record according to the Three Strikes law in California. You could also face some additional charges for the injured survivors of the accident. Your attorney can help you to fight Watson's murder charges. You can point out that you didn't drive intoxicated with alcohol. You could also state that the accident was not your fault or didn't occur due to your negligence. If you didn't act with implied malice, the prosecutor can't accuse you of Watson's murder. If the police mishandled you and violated your legal rights at the time of your arrest, you can use it as a basis for your defense.

Find a Pasadena Criminal Attorney Near Me

A vehicular manslaughter conviction under California law could have devastating consequences. With the help of a competent attorney, you can fight the charges or negotiate a reduction of the charges. The Pasadena Criminal Attorney will always try to provide you with the best legal defense services possible. Contact us at 626-689-2277 and talk to one of our attorneys.

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