Vehicular Manslaughter, as defined by California Penal Code Section 192(c), occurs when a driver:
- Drives a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or the commission of a lawful act in an manner that may cause death;
- With negligence or gross negligence, but not with malice; and
- The act results in a person's death.
In Los Angeles, we frequently encounter distracted drivers and people violating the California Vehicle Code while maneuvering through traffic. Common examples of Vehicular Manslaughter include:
- Speeding and crashing into another vehicle and killing any of the parties involved in the collision.
- Texting or talking on a handheld device and hitting and killing another driver, biker, or pedestrian.
- Running a red light or stop sign in an effort to save time and crashing into oncoming traffic, resulting in a person's death.
A driver may also be charged with Vehicular Manslaughter if the collision was knowingly caused for financial gain. For example, the driver may crash intentionally in an attempt to collect insurance proceeds and kill someone in the process. This charge does not preclude prosecution for the crime of murder.
Vehicular Manslaughter vs. Felony Murder and Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
If a death results from an act that a driver performs either (1) during the commission of a felony or (2) while the driver is intoxicated, then the driver will be charged under separate Sections of the California Penal Code (Sections 187 and 191.5, respectively).
Felony Murder: When a person is killed by driver who is the process of committing a felony, this is referred to as Felony Murder. An example of Felony Murder is a getaway driver fleeing the scene of a robbery and crashing and killing an innocent bystander.
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated: Cases of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated may arise from any death that occurs while a driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of illegal substances, or under the influence of legal substances if above the legal limits. This may include:
- Drivers over the age of 21 with a blood alcohol level above .08%
- Drivers under the age of 21 with a blood alcohol level above .001%
- Drivers under the influence of illegal drugs, or legal drugs (prescriptions) if they are sedative or otherwise unsafe
What Must the Prosecutor Prove?
The prosecutor must prove each of the elements of Vehicular Manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction. These elements are:
- The commission of an unlawful act or lawful act that may cause death
- While operating a vehicle
- With negligence or gross negligence
- The negligent act caused another person's death
In some cases, it is possible to achieve a complete dismissal for Vehicular Manslaughter based on common defenses, such as the following:
Violation of Constitutional Rights: This is a viable argument to exclude incriminating evidence if, during the collection of evidence, your constitutional rights are violated. This includes improper search and seizure of your person or property. If proved, the evidence will be thrown out by the Judge.
Intervening or Contributory Cause of Death: A person may only be convicted of Vehicular Manslaughter if the prosecution can prove the connection between the driver's conduct and the resulting death. In some cases, demonstrating that there is an independent intervening event outside of the driver's control may be grounds for dismissal or a reduction in the criminal charge.
In California, Vehicular Manslaughter is a “wobbler” law, meaning it may be filed as a Misdemeanor or a Felony depending on the particular circumstances of the case and the prior criminal history of the defendant. The potential sentences for a conviction are:
Vehicular Manslaughter Misdemeanor: Defendants face up to 1 year in county jail.
Vehicular Manslaughter Felony: Convictions may result in 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison.
If the Accident is Caused for Financial Gain: If the prosecution can prove that the defendant knowingly caused a conviction for financial gain, the resulting sentence may be 4, 6, or 10 years in state prison.
Penalty for Fleeing the Scene: If after committing Vehicular Manslaughter the driver flees the scene, then he/she faces an additional 5 years in state prison.
Suspended Driver's License: A conviction for Vehicular Manslaughter may result in the suspension of your driver's license under Vehicle Code Section 13361(c).
The Judge has discretion as to the length of the sentence depending on the circumstances of the case. Even if you are convicted, the Court may order probation or community service in lieu of jail time if there are mitigating circumstances.
How We Can Help
Even if you are ordinarily a safe driver, accidents can occur. Drivers will understandably experience guilt and grief, but it is important to keep in mind that you are entitled to a defense under the law. In Los Angeles vehicular fatalities are very common, but each happens under distinctive circumstances that must be examined in their entirety. If you or someone know has been accused of Vehicular Manslaughter, you need to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible to review the facts of your case and provide you with the best possible legal representation.
At the Law Offices of Jeff Voll, we have extensive experience defending against charges of Vehicular Manslaughter in the Los Angeles area. Call us today at 323-467-6400 for comprehensive answers to your legal questions or a free consultation. For further information on how we can help, check out testimonials and client reviews for Jeff Voll on AVVO: http://www.avvo.com/attorneys/90010-ca-p-voll-288580.html.