When a person is driving their car, and an accident occurs that results in the death of a third party, the driver of the vehicle will be charged with vehicular manslaughter. This is especially so if the driver was involved in an unlawful or negligent behavior resulting in a fatality. In case you are charged with vehicular manslaughter, speaking with a lawyer experienced in criminal matters is essential. The penalties if one is convicted of this offense are harsh and the fines very steep. The law, however, allows you to fight against these charges and getting a criminal defense lawyer will help. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we are experienced and able to offer you legal representation against these charges.
Defining Vehicular Manslaughter
According to PEN 192, vehicular manslaughter is when a person causes another to die while driving due to negligence or while committing an offense when driving. The circumstances around the offense will differ, resulting in various charges under vehicular manslaughter. These charges or crimes are:
PEN 192(c)(1), Gross Negligence Manslaughter
Gross negligence manslaughter is one of the offenses a person can be charged with. There are various elements to the crime a prosecutor must prove for a defendant to be convicted of the offense. These are:
- As the defendant was driving, they engaged in a violation that was a misdemeanor or an infraction or any other act that would have caused death
- Based on the situation, the act a defendant committed endangered human life
- The defendant committed the act under gross negligence
- The actions of the defendant resulted in the death of the victim
For a defendant to be found guilty of this offense, they must commit a violation that is not considered a felony or even act lawfully in a way that will result in death. For instance, two friends John and Mike, are driving on a highway. As John is driving, he decides to send a text message to another friend. This act is an infraction under the California law. In the process, John loses concentration and hits the guardrail. Mike, who is a passenger, dies instantly from the crash. In this case, John will be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter. He caused an accident that killed his friend while committing another offense, an infraction.
It is essential to understand that for a person to be charged with vehicular manslaughter, the offense they were committing must never be a felony. If, however, a person dies in an accident while the defendant was committing a crime such as drunk driving, the prosecution will charge you with murder.
Understanding Gross Negligence
According to PEN 192(c)(1), the definition of this offense requires the defendant to have acted in gross negligence. When the prosecution is unable to prove gross negligence, the defendant cannot be found guilty of the misdemeanor offense of vehicular manslaughter.
When a person is said to have acted in gross negligence, it means that their carelessness was not ordinary or a mistake in judgment. A person is said to act with gross negligence when:
- An individual behaves in a careless manner that is highly risky to others and will result in causing significant bodily injuries or death
- An ordinary individual would know that such behavior would be unsafe to human life
When a person acts in a manner different from the actions of an ordinarily mindful person in a similar situation, the behavior can be defined as gross negligence. It is more so when they act with total disregard for life or the outcome of their actions.
Causing Another Person to Die
For a defendant to be found guilty for causing another person to die, an offense of gross negligence, their actions must be responsible for the death of the person. The death must, therefore, be directly caused, probable, and natural from your actions.
However, gross negligence is not the only factor that is considered for this offense. However, it must be a significant factor in causing the death. For instance, a driver driving carelessly through traffic at high speeds knocks a pedestrian down. The driver does not kill the pedestrian, but the pedestrian fell on the road, and another vehicle ran them over and killed them. The first driver will be charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. Even when the driver did not cause death, their recklessness or negligent driving must have been a significant factor in causing the demise of the pedestrian.
PEN 192(c)(2), Vehicular Manslaughter Misdemeanor Offense
Violation of PEN 192(c)(2) occurs when a person commits what the law terms as a misdemeanor or ordinary vehicular manslaughter. For a conviction for this offense, the prosecutor must show various elements to be true concerning the crime. These elements are:
- When the defendant was driving, they committed a misdemeanor or an infraction. Or an otherwise lawful act but in an illegal way
- Based on the circumstances, the defendant's actions were risky to life
- The act was carried out under regular negligence
- The actions of the defendant resulted in the death of a third party
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and ordinary vehicular manslaughter differ only in the level of oversight a defendant had while committing the act. Ordinary negligence, in this case, means that the defendant was not cautious enough to avoid causing harm to another.
PEN 192(c)(3), Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain
This is another kind of vehicular manslaughter, where the defendant causes death to gain financially. This offense happens when:
- A defendant while driving willfully participates or causes a crash
- The defendant is aware of what he or she is doing, and their actions are to commit an insurance fraud
- The defendant does this intending to defraud a person or an insurance company
- Death results from the collision
This offense is considered manslaughter when a defendant kills another person accidentally while they were on a mission to wreck their car for insurance compensation.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter
The punishments or penalties for vehicular manslaughter vary according to the offense a person is charged with. Here, we discuss the various penalties under each violation for ease of understanding.
Penalties for PEN 192(c)(1), Manslaughter with Gross Negligence
When a person is charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, the offense is a wobbler. The defendant can be prosecuted on misdemeanor or felony charges based on the criminal record of the defendant or the facts of the crime. A conviction on misdemeanor charges has the following penalties:
- The defendant will be sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
- A county jail sentence not exceeding a year
- A cash fine not above $1,000.
If however, a defendant is charged and convicted of a felony, they face the following penalties:
- The defendant will be sentenced to formal or felony probation
- State imprisonment for either two, four or six years
- A cash fine not above $10,000
Penalties for PEN 192(c)(2), Misdemeanor Manslaughter
Ordinary or misdemeanor manslaughter offense has the following penalties:
- A defendant will be sentenced to summary or misdemeanor probation
- County jail imprisonment for not more than a year
- A cash fine not exceeding $1,000
Penalties for PEN 192(c)(3), Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain
Charges on PEN 192(c)(3) vehicular manslaughter for financial gain are prosecuted as felony offenses. The possible penalties a defendant will face if convicted of the crime are more severe. The defendant will be required to pay a cash fine of not more than $10,000. The penalty is in addition to or instead of state imprisonment for either four or six or ten years.
Suspension of Driver’s License
When a person is found guilty and convicted of violating PEN 192 (c) (1), or PEN 192(c)(3), the Department of Motor Vehicles in California will revoke their driver’s license. The defendant will be unable to reinstate their driver's license unless they have completed three years from the date it was revoked.
Should a defendant be found driving while their license is suspended or revoked, further charges for VEH 14601 (driving with when you have a suspended license) will be brought against them.
Fighting PEN 192(c) Charges on Vehicular Manslaughter
As long as people keep driving, accidents are bound to happen. When some of these tragedies happen, prosecutors and the police alike charge the offenders with vehicular manslaughter even when the charges are unnecessary or unjustified. When this happens, a defendant must seek the services of a criminal defense lawyer as soon as they are charged.
There are various strategies your defense attorney can apply in your defense. Some of these strategies include:
The Defendant was not Negligent or Did not Behave in a Manner to Suggest Gross Negligence
It can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove gross negligence or negligence in a vehicular manslaughter charge. Negligence in both cases is defined in relation to an average person and what is termed as standard behavior. It sounds objective, but in the real sense, it is subjective and difficult to define.
Every driver is required to make abrupt decisions while on the road. It becomes difficult to challenge these decisions as bad ones to warrant negligence. For instance, a charge that involves gross negligence can be argued by your defense attorney to that of ordinary negligence. If this argument is successful, the possible penalties can be reduced significantly and even get you out of a three-year license revocation.
The Negligent Behavior of the Defendant was not the Cause of Death to the Victim
To determine the cause and consequences of some situations, such as those involving vehicle accidents, can be difficult. Even when a defendant did indeed drive with gross or ordinary negligence, it could be difficult for the prosecution to prove negligence on the part of a defendant. It can also be argued that the victim was negligent, thus resulting in the fatality.
With the help of accident reconstruction experts, a defense attorney can challenge the theory of the prosecution and create reasonable doubts.
The Defendant Came Face to Face with Sudden Emergency
You cannot always be able to predict how a person reacts when faced with an emergency. Your attorney can argue that based on the circumstances, the defendant acted reasonably well, but unfortunately, a fatality happened. The law requires a person facing unexpected and sudden emergency to act in a manner an ordinary mindful person would react in a similar situation. If the defendant acted in such a manner, they could not be accused of being grossly negligent or negligent.
For instance, the defendant will have faced a deer that suddenly ran into the road. He or she swerved to avoid crashing into the deer and thus damaging their vehicle. Unfortunately, they swerved on to another car, and the accident results in a fatality. This behavior can be argued not to have been negligent to the point of being convicted of vehicular manslaughter offense.
Related Offenses to PEN 192(c)
There are many other crimes a prosecutor can charge a person with as opposed to or alongside PEN 192(c) violations. These offenses include:
PEN 191.5, Vehicular Manslaughter While Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
A crime of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is different from normal vehicular manslaughter. This offense is only applicable if the defendant committed the offense while impaired by alcohol or drugs or both.
Gross vehicular manslaughter while under intoxication is when a driver causes a fatality while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is in addition to gross negligence in your actions
Driving without negligence, but intoxicated means a defendant can be charged with any of the following offenses:
- VEH 23152(a) Driving Under the Influence
- VEH 23152(b) Driving when your BAC is at or over 0.08%
- A 21-year-old driving while their BAC is at 0.05% or more
- VEH 23152(f) Driving while intoxicated by drugs
When a defendant is charged with PEN 191.5(b), vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, but with no gross negligence, it is a wobbler offense. A conviction as a misdemeanor offense gets the defendant a county jail time of not more than one year. A felony conviction, on the other hand, can see a defendant face state imprisonment of either sixteen or twenty-four or thirty-six months.
A defendant charged with PEN 191.5(a) violations will face felony prosecution and with it, face severe penalties if convicted. The defendant will face possible state imprisonment of four or six or ten years.
PEN 191.5(a), Gross Vehicle Manslaughter Under the Influence
A driver can be highly intoxicated and at the same time, act in gross negligence, causing death to another. Such actions are defined under PEN 191.5(a) as violations. For a person to be found guilty of this offense, the prosecutor must prove various elements or facts of the crime. These elements include:
- The driver was driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol
- And while doing that, he/she was involved in an infraction or misdemeanor or legal action that can result in death
- That the infraction or misdemeanor or lawful act was committed with gross negligence
- That the defendant’s blatant negligent acts resulted in the fatality.
As discussed above under PEN 191.5, the same charges for driving while intoxicated can be leveled against a person accused of PEN 191.5(a). However, the difference is one was intoxication but with ordinary negligence while the other is intoxication with gross negligence.
PEN 191.5(a) Penalties
Violations of PEN 191.5(a) gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony in California. A defendant convicted of the felony offense is likely to face the following penalties:
- The defendant will be sentenced to formal or felony probation
- Face state imprisonment for a period of four or six or ten years
- Be charged a cash fine of not more than $10,000
However, if a defendant has a prior conviction of one or more of the following offenses, they face more stringent penalties. These offenses include:
- Ordinary or gross vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Gross vehicular manslaughter, not regular according to PEN 192(c)
- Violations of PEN 192.5(a) or 192.5(b) vehicular manslaughter operating a boat
- Violations for VEH 23152 DUI
- Violations of VEH 23153 DUI resulting in significant bodily injuries
If convicted of any of the above offenses, you are likely to face fifteen years to life imprisonment.
Aside from the above penalties, the defendant will also have their driver’s license suspended for at least three years by the DMV. If you are found driving while your driving license is suspended, you will be charged with violating VEH 14601 for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
Fighting PEN 191.5 Charges
It is devastating for a person to cause an accident and kill someone as a result. If the defendant was consuming alcohol or took drugs before driving, they can easily blame themselves for the crash. The law enforcement officers may also be quick to apportion the blame on the intoxicated defendant.
However, a defendant may have been intoxicated but not responsible for the accident. Therefore, it is crucial to hire an experienced criminal attorney to fight these allegations on your behalf. The legal defenses for this offense are similar to those of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. However, there are a few strategies that are different due to the element of intoxication. Aside from the other defense strategies, your defense attorney can argue the following:
The Defendant was not Under the Influence When the Accident Happened
In this case, your attorney can use strategies used in defending common DUI offenses in California. Your attorney can state challenge the evidence that the defendant was driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. The symptoms of some illnesses or fatigue can resemble those of drunk driving. The driver may have been operating for long hours without sleep or break. Such driving can result in fatigue and for the driver to appear drunk. It would, therefore, be wrong for law enforcement officers to conclude that the driver was drunk driving.
The driver can also suffer from shock after the accident. The symptoms of trauma, such as speaking incoherently, a state of confusion, among others, can look like symptoms of drunkenness. If your lawyer can convince the court of these, then these charges will be reduced to less severe ones.
Your lawyer can also challenge how valid the chemical test results were. If a person is suffering from specific health issues like hypersensitivity, a breath test will indicate they are intoxicated while they are not. The acidity from the stomach produces a breath that has alcoholic characteristics of alcohol, and it is easy to assume the defendant to have been drunk.
Some of the gadgets for administering chemical tests can be faulty and give wrong results. It is an area that your experienced attorney can explore to indicate that the equipment used was not reliable. Some officers, while carrying out the chemical tests, can violate the procedures as laid down under Title 17. Your lawyer can challenge the processes used and cause a reasonable doubt of your intoxication. If it is found that there was a violation of any of the procedures, the blood alcohol content results will not be used as evidence against you. It, therefore, means that your charges can be reduced to less severe ones.
Sometimes law enforcement officers can behave in a manner that is not acceptable. Some officers are eager to make an arrest, and as a result, they can use excessive force or perjury to get a conviction. Sometimes they can intimidate a defendant into admitting fault, fabricate evidence to show that the defendant is at fault. Some can also plant illicit drugs in the defendant’s vehicle or alcohol to show that the defendant was indeed using drugs or alcohol at the time the accident happened.
However, this does not mean that all law enforcement officers are corrupt. However, some can be sloppy in their investigations or due to pressure to get a conviction. Your lawyer can poke holes in the police conduct, how the defendant was arrested, and everything that followed. The evidence the police produce can also be challenged to create reasonable doubt.
Find a San Diego Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Allegations of committing vehicular manslaughter are severe and can lead to extended prison time, hefty fines, suspension of your license, among other severe penalties. Some assertions will be unjustified, but without a lawyer, the defendant may find themselves facing harsh penalties. When charged with this offense, getting the services of an experienced criminal attorney is your best bet. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we have years of experience and can help you with your defense. Call us today at 619-880-5474, and let us help you fight them.