Vehicular manslaughter occurs when a driver causes the death of another person because of unlawful driving of an automobile, drunk driving, gross negligence, over-speeding, or reckless driving. Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. All offenses related to murder, primarily resulting from driving, are considered serious crimes in California. Thus, expect the prosecutor to demand tough penalties. Attorneys of The DUI Defense Attorney law firm can help you to fight vehicular manslaughter and other related charges if you are in Van Nuys, CA, and neighboring cities. Some of the defenses we can raise include: you were not driving negligently, you acted rationally under the conditions, your negligence did not result in death.

Legal Definition of Vehicular Homicide/ Manslaughter

You should not confuse vehicular manslaughter with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Unlike the latter two crimes, vehicle manslaughter occurs when you are driving a vehicle. The vehicular manslaughter laws are codified under PEN 192, where the offense occurs in three forms:

  1. Vehicular manslaughter involving gross negligence (PEN 192 (c) (1))

You are charged under this section if:

  • You committed an infraction or a misdemeanor while driving,
  • You committed a lawful act in such a way that it could lead to death,
  • The action was dangerous to the life of another person,
  • The action was committed with gross negligence, and
  • A person died because of your actions.

Under this statute, committing an act with gross negligence means that you acted recklessly, risking other people's lives and any reasonable person would have known that such an action is risky. Thus, the element of gross negligence holds when it is evident that you acted differently from how another ordinary person would if they were in a similar situation.

Additionally, the act that you committed should be lawful, an infraction, or a misdemeanor. Thus, the crime would not be vehicular manslaughter if the act is a felony. Instead (if it was a felony) you are more likely to face Watson murder charge rather than vehicular manslaughter.

  1. Misdemeanor manslaughter (PEN 192 (c) (2))

This type of vehicular manslaughter involves ordinary misdemeanor. The prosecutor must prove these elements for you to be guilty of the offense:

  • You illegally committed a legal act, or otherwise, the act was an infraction or a misdemeanor,
  • The act posed risks to other people,
  • The act was committed with ordinary negligence,
  • The act resulted in another person’s death.

Under this statute, ordinary negligence means that you did not take any measure to avoid foreseeable harm to another person. The difference between this offense and gross negligence vehicular manslaughter is that the latter requires proof that you acted with gross negligence while the former requires proof that you acted with ordinary negligence.

  1. Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain (PEN 192 (c) (3)

This type of vehicular manslaughter happens when:

  • You knowingly participate or causes a collision,
  • You aimed to get financial gain by making a false insurance claim,
  • You intended to defraud another party or an insurance company (for example, by committing an auto insurance fraud crime),
  • The collision results in death

In simple words PEN 192 (c) (3) offense occurs when you unwantedly kill a person while deliberately seeking to commit an auto insurance fraud.

For clarity, these are some of the situations that can lead to a vehicular manslaughter charge (note that each case depicts the above three forms of this crime):

  1. A driver is texting from the phone while driving, thereby hitting and killing a cyclist;
  2. A driver is driving with excessive speed, hits another vehicle, and then the other driver dies;
  3. While hoping to get an insurance payout for her car, a driver drives past a stop sign, hitting and killing a pedestrian.

What Happens if I Flee the Accident Scene?

Under Vehicle Code 20001, you would be committing a hit and run offense if you flee the accident scene after causing injury or death to another person. In particular, if the VEH 20001 offense involved death because of your negligent driving, you may be liable to enhanced penalties for vehicular manslaughter. The additional punishment, if your case is charged as vehicular manslaughter, is five years imprisonment.

In this case, the prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt:

  • That you fled the accident scene after knowing that your driving actions lead to someone's death (it doesn't matter whether the person was your passenger or not), and
  • All the underlying elements for vehicular manslaughter.

How Does the Prosecutor Determine Whether a Vehicular Manslaughter is a Misdemeanor or Felony?

Vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. The prosecutor will decide on how to charge the offense depending on your criminal record and the facts of your case. The most significant point is your behavior that led to the accident. The police report is analyzed to determine the specific cause of your accident.

If your driving pattern was erratic or you knowingly disregarded traffic rules, your offense is more likely to be a felony. Similarly, a criminal record showing one or multiple convictions of the same crime would amount to a felony charge. But if your driving record is clean, showing no arrests for violating traffic and other driving laws, your offense is likely to be a misdemeanor.

Punishments for Vehicular Manslaughter

The consequences for vehicular manslaughter usually depend on the form of the offense that you are charged with.

  1. Penalties for Violating PEN 192 (c) (1)

This offense is a wobbler. Whether to treat the offense as a felony or misdemeanor depends on your criminal record and the circumstances surrounding your case.

If it is a misdemeanor, the possible punishments include one or all of the following: (a) misdemeanor probation, (b) a maximum county jail time for one year, (c) a maximum fine of 1,000 dollars.

As a felony, the offense is punished by one or all of the following: (a) felony probation, (b) a sentence of two, four, or six years in the state prison, (c) a maximum fine of 10,000 dollars.

If you are on misdemeanor probation, you are required to comply with certain conditions including paying restitution, attending counseling, or performing community work. If you violate these conditions, the judge can cancel the probation term and send you back to jail or prison.

Similarly, you must observe some conditions when you are on formal (felony) probation. This probation is usually an alternative to imprisonment and allows you to serve all or part of your sentence in community while under supervision. In most cases, felony probation will last between three to five years, and you have to report to a probation officer on a regular basis. You must also pay restitution to the victim(s).

  1. Penalties for Violating PEN 192 (c) (2)

This offense is a misdemeanor, with one or all of the following punishments: (a) misdemeanor probation, (b) a maximum sentence of one year in county jail, (c) a maximum fine of 1,000 dollars.

  1. Penalties for Violating PEN 192 (c) (3)

This offense is always a felony. Possible consequences are a maximum fine of 10,000 dollars, imprisonment of four, six, or ten years, or both the fine and imprisonment.

Revocation of the Driver’s License

In exception of ordinary negligence vehicular manslaughter, all vehicular manslaughter convictions require that the Department of Motor Vehicles revoke your driving license. The department can only reinstate your revoked license after a minimum of three years after the revocation date.

Before the reinstatement of your license, it is illegal to drive in California. Otherwise, you would face six months in county jail and fines of 300 dollars to 1,000 dollars according to vehicle code 14601.

PEN 192 (c) as a Plea Bargain

Ordinary vehicular manslaughter can be used as a plea bargain if a person is charged with any form of vehicular homicide while intoxicated. A significant example of this crime is gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. This offense, under PEN 191.5 (a), occurs when a person violates both the gross vehicular manslaughter laws (PEN 192 (c) (1)) and the DUI laws (Vehicle codes 23152, 23140, or 23153).

It is not realistic to dispute the vehicular manslaughter evidence if you are charged with the above crime. This is because a dead body is a tangible proof that a person died, even though the prosecution must prove other facts of the crime. On the other hand, you may easily get out of a DUI case using several defenses, among them, faultiness in the BAC devices.

If the prosecutor has little or no evidence that you were driving under the influence, dropping the DUI part of the charge would be an ideal option. This plea bargain deal will see you face only PEN 192 (c) charge.

Legal Defenses If You Are Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter

When driving a car, accidents are bound to happen however much caution you take. The outcome of such accidents can be fatal, and this can change your life drastically. While there are times some of these cases are genuine, for instance, in a case of drunk driving, there are other instances that the police or prosecutors just press charges unfairly. Many people find themselves on the wrong side of the law even when they were cautious and so, it is essential to know some of the legal defenses that can get your charges reduced or the case dismissed.

The following are the common legal defenses.

  1. You were not careless or acted in excess negligence

Carelessness and gross disregard will not be easy to attest in a case of vehicular manslaughter. This is because a sensible person can as well be careless and negligent and it is not easy to distinguish these two elements.

There are decisions a driver must make when driving a car and even if some of these eventually produce results considered to be the bad ones, it may not be easy to tell just how wrong they were to be termed as negligent.

This, your attorney can argue that your behavior was merely negligent and not grossly negligent if you are accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. This argument can lead to a reduction of the possible penalties that include sparing you from having your driver’s license revoked for about three years.

  1. Your negligence did not cause the death of another person

Even if there was death after the accident, it might be hard to sort out the exact cause of the situation to ascertain that it was actually your negligence that caused the death. Sometimes, one can be negligent or charged with severe negligence after an accident that resulted in the demise of a person, but the prosecution may not be able to prove the involvement of the accused in someone's death.

Working with an experienced DUI defense attorney will be helpful in this case. He/she may challenge the prosecutor's version of the happenings as well as work with accident reconstruction expert witnesses to help with your case. These accident reconstruction witnesses are the experts that obtain the details of an accident scene to create models and re-create the accident to tell exactly how an accident occurred. 

  1.  You faced a quick emergency thereby acting rationally under the conditions

If a person was having an immediate or an emergency, they are required to use a similar caution and decision that a reasonable person could use in a similar situation. If your actions reflected what any other person would do in a similar situation, you might not be in violation of the vehicular manslaughter laws because you were not negligent.

If for instance, you rammed into an oncoming car when you swerved your car to avoid running over a biker that was carelessly riding too close to the traffic, your behavior will not be termed as negligent, and so, it will not be enough to convict you of vehicular manslaughter.

Offenses Relating to Vehicular Manslaughter

Various crimes are related to vehicular manslaughter and can be charged in the place of or alongside the crime of vehicular homicide. These are:

  1. Vehicular manslaughter under intoxication or gross vehicular manslaughter while under intoxication

This offense is distinct from vehicular manslaughter. While there must be proof that you acted negligently for a vehicular manslaughter case to hold, the evidence that you were intoxicated is a crucial element in vehicular manslaughter under intoxication case. This crime is well-defined as the illegal killing of another person while driving under intoxication and with extreme carelessness.

Penal Code 191.5(a) PC gross vehicular manslaughter when drunk is a felony, with a state prison sentence of four, six, or ten years.

If there is no proof that a person acted with gross negligence, but they were drunk, the offense becomes a wobbler. The misdemeanor penalties include a maximum of one year in a county jail while a felony charge attracts a state prison sentence of sixteen months, two years, or three years.

If the prosecutor is unable to prove to the jury beyond reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated before causing death, PEN 191.5 (a) offense is usually reduced to the ordinary vehicular manslaughter offense.

  1. Watson/DUI Murder

In most cases, DUI-related death cases are charged under PEN 187 murder laws and not vehicular manslaughter laws. If you are a repeat DUI offender, for instance, California prosecutors will charge you with Drunk Driving murder, which is also called Watson murder when you cause the killing of another person while driving under the influence. This might also happen if you have already been informed about the risks of drunk driving or you were given Watson advisement just before the sentence.

Can I Get Bail for Vehicular Manslaughter?

A vehicular manslaughter bail is a process of releasing you from custody after being arrested for vehicular manslaughter. Unlike simple misdemeanor offenses, a vehicular manslaughter offense is treated seriously (especially when it is a felony); thus, the possible bail amount for this offense is relatively higher. The following are bail amounts depending on the type of the crime:

  • 50,000 dollars for PEN 192 (c) (1) vehicular manslaughter – driving with gross negligence and PEN 192 (c) (2) vehicular manslaughter – driving without gross negligence, and
  • 100,000 dollars for PEN 192 (c) (3) vehicular manslaughter – financial gain accident.

It is not automatic, though, that you will receive bail after a vehicular manslaughter arrest. Usually, you should file for a bail hearing in court, and then the judge determines whether you are eligible for bail. If you aren't (i.e., you pose the risk of fleeing or avoiding your subsequent court proceedings), you will not be granted the bail.

Find Legal Representation Near Me

In California, all cases involving injuries or deaths to people are treated as severe crimes, with harsh penalties. An example of these crimes is vehicular manslaughter, which includes deaths resulting from the violation of driving rules. Still, being charged with vehicular homicide/ manslaughter is not an indication that you are guilty. Sometimes, you may be wrongly identified or arrested. It is essential to seek an attorney who will raise your defense in court, and The DUI Defense Attorney is ready for this task. Contact us at 818-253-1913 if you are in Van Nuys, California, for immediate help regarding your case.