Under California law, if you commit a DUI offense alongside a negligent act and another person dies in the process, you may face DUI homicide charges. You are guilty of DUI homicide if you kill another person without malice aforethought. To face charges for DUI homicide, you must have been operating a vehicle while intoxicated in violation of Vehicle Code sections 23140, 23152, or 23153. A crime of DUI homicide falls under California Penal Code 191.5(b). The DUI Defense Attorney assists clients who are facing DUI homicide charges, contact us today if you have been charged.
Overview of DUI Homicide
There are several elements to the crime of DUI homicide under California law. To face charges for the crime, the prosecutor must prove that you operated a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The prosecutor must further prove that while driving under the influence, you committed an unlawful act other than a felony. The wrongful act may either be a misdemeanor or an infraction under California law. You may also have committed a lawful act that may cause death. The prosecutor has to bring out the fact that you committed the infraction or misdemeanor with ordinary negligence. Finally, it must be evident that your negligent behavior led to the death of another person.
When can you face charges for DUI homicide? You may be driving home with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or more. You decide to call your friend on your mobile while at the same time operating your phone. You forget to use the hands' free device because you are not sober enough. You suddenly hit a pedestrian and kill him on the spot. You may face charges for DUI homicide as your BAC was above the allowable limit. Other than being under the influence, you committed an additional crime of acting negligently by talking on the phone without a hands-free device while driving.
In another instance, you may be driving home under the influence of cocaine. You are operating at a very high speed. You accidentally rear-end the car ahead of you and instantly kill its driver. You may face charges under DUI homicide. Other than being under the influence of drugs (cocaine), you indulged in reckless driving. You were operating your vehicle at a very high speed, yet you were under the influence.
When are You Intoxicated/Under the Influence?
You are guilty of DUI if you violate California's driving under the influence law as outlined under California Vehicle Code 23152 (a). You are also liable if you breach the California Vehicle Code 23152 (b). You violate Vehicle Code 23152 (b) if you operate a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or more. You are also guilty of driving while intoxicated if you are under the influence of drugs or under the influence of a combination of both alcohol and drugs. You may also be under the influence if you violate Vehicle Code 23140 by operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of .05% or higher and you are below the age of 21 years.
An Offense Other than a Felony
To be guilty of DUI homicide, you must commit an additional California crime that is not a felony. The crime may either be an infraction or a misdemeanor. The additional act may also be lawful but likely to cause death. The fact of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol does not qualify as an additional act likely to cause death. In simple terms, you must commit another act lawful or unlawful in addition to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The additional act does not have to be extremely dangerous. It only needs to be dangerous under the circumstances.
You Acted with Negligence
To be guilty of DUI homicide, it must be evident that you acted with negligence. Ordinary negligence means that you could foresee harm to someone else due to your actions, yet you failed to use reasonable care to prevent damage from occurring.
You are negligent if you do something that another careful person would not do under the circumstances. You are also negligent if you fail to do something that a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances. Negligence is either an act of omission or commission.
Death of Another Person
You will only face charges for DUI homicide if your actions lead to the death of another person. This means that death must be directly related to your actions. The death may also be a probable cause of your negligent behavior. At times, your actions of negligent conduct may not be the only cause of death. However, as long as your actions significantly contributed to the death of the victim, you may face charges for DUI homicide.
For example, you may be driving home while intoxicated. You suddenly remember that you forgot to purchase something on your way home and you immediately make an illegal U-turn. In the process, you hit a pedestrian. The pedestrian does not die immediately, but he loses consciousness and remains lying on the ground. Another motorist comes and runs over the injured pedestrian, killing him instantly. In this scenario, even if you did not directly cause the death of the pedestrian, you may still face DUI homicide charges. This is because your actions majorly contributed to the death of the pedestrian. The charges may hold even if the other driver killed the pedestrian. Were it not for your prior actions of making an illegal U-turn and hitting the pedestrian; the other driver would not have killed the pedestrian.
Consequences of DUI Homicide
Under California law, the crime of DUI homicide is a Wobbler. This means that the crime may either attract misdemeanor or felony charges. Whether you face felony charges or misdemeanor charges will depend on various factors. The factors include your criminal history and the circumstances of your offense.
If you face misdemeanor charges, the penalties may include a summary/misdemeanor probation. This is an informal probation whereby you do not have to meet with the probation officer regularly. The probation will also not require you to make regular visits to the probation office. Other penalties may include imprisonment of up to one year in county jail. You may also have to pay fines that do not exceed $ 1,000.
If you get felony charges for a DUI homicide crime, you may face some additional charges. The penalties include formal felony probation. This is formal probation that entails meeting with the probation officer on a regular basis. The court may also require you to visit the probation office while on probation regularly. You may also face imprisonment that may range from 16 months, two years, or 4 years. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $10,000.
You may lose your driver's license if the court charges you with DUI homicide as a felony. You may have your driver's license suspended for one year. If you face charges for DUI homicide as a misdemeanor, the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicle) will not suspend your driver's license. You may face additional charges under Vehicle Code 14601 VC if you operate your vehicle on a revoked license.
Fighting DUI Homicide Charges
Cases involving driving under the influence have severe penalties. Everyone, including society, treats DUI offenders with contempt. The consequences of drunk driving could only get worse if a person dies due to your negligence. If you are facing DUI homicide charges, you can adopt several defense strategies. Some of the common defenses for DUI homicide include:
You were not Intoxicated
You cannot be guilty of DUI homicide unless you were operating a vehicle while intoxicated and you killed a person in the process. If you successfully prove that you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may face reduced charges. For instance, you may face vehicular manslaughter charges if you successfully prove that you were not under the influence at the time of committing the homicide.
The prosecutor may have evidence aimed at proving that you were under the influence at the time you committed the offense. For instance, the prosecutor may point out that you exhibited signs of intoxication. Signs of intoxication may include watery or bloodshot eyes, confusion, or lack of concentration. You can assert that the signs were due to an illness or fatigue. You may also state that the shock of being involved in an accident made you exhibit signs of drunkenness, yet in the real sense, you were just nervous.
How can you deny intoxication if you recorded a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% and above? Even if your BAC is above the legal limit, you can still deny intoxication. For instance, you may assert that you were on a protein-rich diet. Diets rich in proteins may produce positive BAC results. You may also challenge the test results. For instance, you may challenge the credibility of the Breathalyzer breath tests. Your attorney may examine the Breathalyzer used to conduct the test. The attorney checks out if the test equipment is regularly maintained and well-calibrated. The attorney will also confirm whether a competent person conducted the BAC tests.
Did the police use the right procedures during your DUI arrest? If there was a presence of police misconduct and any other unruly conduct, you could use them as a basis for fighting DUI homicide charges.
You were not Negligent
Other than being under the influence of alcohol, you must have acted in negligence for you to face DUI homicide charges. When assessing negligence, the law focuses on how a careful person would have acted in a similar situation. You may assert that you did not act any different than the way a normal and careful person would have acted under similar conditions.
The victim did Not Die Due to Your Negligence
In situations involving motor vehicle accidents, it is hard to sort out the cause and effect. For instance, how can the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were operating your vehicle in a negligent manner, and someone ended up dead? It is hard for the prosecutor to prove that your negligence was indeed the cause of the death of the victim. You may assert that the victim was negligent or that the victim died due to the negligence of a third party. You may also point out that other factors that were beyond your control led to the accident leading to the death of the victim. The factors may include a faulty vehicle or poor road conditions. With the help of accident reconstruction expert witnesses, your attorney can challenge the prosecutor's evidence on what really happened.
A Sudden Emergency
You may also point out that you did not cause the accident due to intoxication but due to a sudden emergency. This way, you can prove that you did not act negligently and you can successfully fight vehicular manslaughter charges. You may state that you used the same care that a reasonable person would have used in the face of an emergency.
There are several offenses that are related to DUI homicide. You may face charges for the related offenses alongside DUI homicide charges or in place of DUI homicide charges. Some of the commonly related offenses include:
Vehicular Homicide/Vehicular Manslaughter
The California Penal Code Penal Code 192(c) outlines the crime of vehicular homicide, also known as vehicular manslaughter. The difference between vehicular homicide and DUI homicide is that you are not under the influence while committing the first crime. Under Penal Code 192(c) you were sober when the accident occurred. If the prosecutor does not have enough evidence to prove that you were intoxicated at the time of committing the crime, he may charge you with Penal Code 192(c) instead of DUI homicide.
Under Penal Code Penal Code 192(c), you may face charges for vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence. You may also face charges for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. Gross vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler under California law. The applicable charges may include imprisonment that does not exceed six years. You may also face misdemeanor charges for an offense under the Penal Code 192(c) with gross negligence.
An offense under Penal Code 192(c) for vehicular homicide without gross negligence is a misdemeanor. The associated consequences may include serving up to one year in county jail. For a misdemeanor offense, you get to retain your driver's license.
For vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence, the associated consequences may include serving up to one year in County jail. The court may also require you to pay a fine that does not exceed $1,000. Another consequence of vehicular manslaughter includes serving a summary or misdemeanor probation.
You may face more severe penalties for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. For vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, you may face misdemeanor or felony charges. For a felony charge, the consequences include serving formal felony probation. You may also serve a sentence of two, four, or six years in a California State Prison. The associated fines may be up to $10,000.
Some of the most severe DUI-related deaths may attract murder charges instead of DUI homicide charges. You can face Watson murder charges if you are a repeat DUI offender. You may also face charges for Watson murder if you had received a Watson warning after committing a previous DUI offense. A Watson warning entails informing a DUI offender about the risks of operating a vehicle under the influence. The warning entails informing the defendant that DUI may lead to loss of human life. For a Watson murder charge, you face charged under Penal Code 187, California's murder law. You will face much more severe penalties for a charge under Penal Code 187, California's murder law than for a charge under DUI homicide.
Factors that Increase Chances of a DUI Murder Charge
Other than having prior DUI convictions and having received a Watson warning, there are other factors that may increase the chances of Watson murder charge. For instance, you may face Watson murder charges for reckless driving. If you were operating your vehicle at a very high speed at the time of causing the accident, you might receive a Watson murder charge. Other forms of reckless driving include speed contest or exhibition of speed. You may also face Watson murder charges for felony evading of a peace officer.
If you record a very high blood alcohol concentration, you may face Watson murder charges. For instance, if your BAC is .15% and above, you are likely to face charges under Penal Code 187, California's murder law.
Under California law, a conviction for DUI murder attracts hefty charges. For an offense under Penal Code 187, California's murder law, you may face imprisonment of up to 15 years in a California State prison. The court may also require you to pay a hefty fine of up to $10,000. For a DUI murder offense under California law, you will earn a stripe on your record in accordance with California's Three Strikes Law.
Contact a Van Nuys DUI Attorney Near Me
If you are facing DUI homicide charges, the consequences can be detrimental, including facing imprisonment or suspension of your driver's license. The DUI Defense Attorney can help you fight the charges. Contact us at 818-253-1913 and speak to one of our attorneys today.
Here are other law firms I recommend outside of Van Nuys if you are arrested in Orange County or San Diego: San Diego DUI Lawyer and Orange County DUI Lawyer