Vehicular Manslaughter

Homicide cases involve murder and manslaughter crimes. Vehicular manslaughter is one of the crimes categorized as a homicide and is defined as the killing of another while driving unlawfully or negligently. Unlike voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges, vehicular manslaughter charges are specific to killings caused by drivers. If charged for the crime, you will face penalties detailed in PC 192(c).

The penalties of a vehicular manslaughter conviction are devastating. However, you can avoid them or have them reduced with the right criminal defense team. At Darwish Law, our team of experienced attorneys works tirelessly to develop the ideal defense strategy to fight these charges. So count on us if you face vehicular manslaughter charges in Santa Ana, CA.

Understanding Penal Code 192(c)

To recap, you commit vehicular manslaughter when you kill another person while operating a car. Additionally, you must have driven the vehicle negligently or unlawfully. This definition is the basis of being charged under PC 192(c).

From the definition, particular elements stand out: operating a vehicle in a negligent or unlawful manner and the death of another, as a consequence of your driving. Therefore, a prosecutor can charge you with any of the following forms of vehicular manslaughter, depending on the evidence they have to support the charges.

You can either be charged with:

  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, a violation of PC 192(c)(1)
  • Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, a PC 192(c)(2) violation, or
  • Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, a PC 192(c)(3) violation

Each form of vehicular manslaughter has particular elements prosecutors must prove to be true for a conviction. Additionally, each crime is penalized differently.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence

Gross negligence is pivotal for a conviction under PC 192(c)(1). When a person acts with ordinary negligence, he/she is said to have acted carelessly, inattentively, or in error. On the other hand, acting with gross negligence means you demonstrated a reckless disregard for safety and the lives of others.

Additionally, grossly negligent actions create a high risk of great bodily injury or death. Further, it should also be established that a reasonable person would have concluded that acting in that manner could create the risk.

Prosecutors must prove the following elements.

  • You drove the vehicle, and while operating the vehicle, you committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or were otherwise driving in a lawful manner that could result in death — Under PC 192(c)(1), the crimes under consideration include misdemeanors or infractions and not felonies.

Note, if the crime you committed was a felony and you killed another while driving, prosecutors will pursue murder charges pursuant to California’s felony-murder rule.

  • Under the circumstances, your actions posed a danger to human life.
  • You acted with gross negligence.
  • Your actions resulted in the death of another — For you to be convicted, the death in the case should be a direct, natural, or probable consequence of your actions. If not, you will not be found guilty. Further, the reasonable standard applies, meaning that a reasonable person would have known that your actions would likely result in the death of another.

Note, your gross negligent actions need not be the sole cause of the victim’s death. However, it should be a significant contributing factor.

  1. Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

Penal Code 192(c)(2) details ordinary negligence as critical for a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter violation. To prove their case, prosecutors must establish the following as true.

  • You drove the vehicle and committed an infraction or misdemeanor or an otherwise legal act in an unlawful manner
  • Your action posed a danger to human life given the circumstances
  • You engaged in the act with ordinary negligence — You failed to exercise due care in preventing reasonably foreseeable harm to another
  • Your actions resulted in the death of another

While ordinary negligence is considered, your actions must have been a natural, direct, or probable cause of the death of another.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter For Financial Gain

You will be found guilty of a PC 192(c)(3) violation if the following are proven to be true.

  • You knowingly caused or participated in a crash while driving a vehicle
  • You proceeded with your actions while aware that the collision was aimed at filing a false insurance claim for financial gain — Simply put, you intended to commit auto insurance fraud
  • You intended to defraud another individual or an insurance provider, and
  • The collision resulted in the death of another

The aforementioned elements also include accidental deaths. That is, you will be found guilty of a PC 192(c)(3) violation even if you accidentally killed another while deliberately wrecking your vehicle to commit an auto insurance fraud.

Penalties of Vehicular Manslaughter

Penalties issued by the courts for vehicular manslaughter vary depending on the offense committed.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence

A PC 192(c)(1) violation is a wobbler offense. Prosecutors can either pursue a misdemeanor or a felony charge for the crime. Your criminal history, coupled with the circumstances of your case, inform the prosecution’s decision whether or not to pursue felony charges.

Misdemeanor convictions result in a jail sentence of no more than one year or informal summary probation instead of time behind bars. Additionally, you could part with up to $1,000 in fines.

Felony offenses, on the other hand, are punishable by a two, four, or six-year prison sentence or formal probation instead of prison time. Further, a judge could also impose a fine not exceeding $10,000.

  1. Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

As the name suggests, a conviction for ordinary vehicular manslaughter is a misdemeanor offense punishable by misdemeanor penalties. A conviction results in a jail sentence of up to one year or summary probation in lieu of jail. Further, you could also part with up to $1,000 in fines.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter For Financial Gain

A conviction for a PC 192(c)(3) violation will result in felony consequences. The offense attracts a prison sentence of four, six, or ten years in prison and a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Additional Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter

Convictions under PC 192(c) also result in driver’s license suspensions.

If convicted for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence or vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, the DMV in California will revoke your driver’s license. The revocation order will remain in effect for three years. Only after the expiry of the three years can you apply to have your driving privileges reinstated.

Driving with a revoked license is an offense, a violation of VC 14601.1. The misdemeanor offense is punishable by six months in jail and a fine not exceeding $1,000 inclusive of court fees.

Fighting Vehicular Manslaughter Charges

Accidents are inevitable. Some of them result in death, which is an unfortunate consequence. However, in the pursuit of accountability, prosecutors respond by instituting vehicular manslaughter charges, even in cases where the crash was purely accidental.

The charges impose severe adverse consequences with a life-long impact on your future. Thus, you need to fight these charges and you stand a better chance of doing so by engaging an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Here’s a look at some defenses your attorney could use for your case.

Your Actions Are Devoid Of Negligence

Courts rely on a reasonable standard to prove both ordinary and gross negligence. However, the standard is not easily provable. Additionally, given the circumstances, people’s different assessments of the situation and their responses make the standard subjective.

Driving involves processing voluminous data of your surroundings and making split-second decisions. Pressure mounts when there is an impending crash. Your choices might not have been ideal, but that does not mean you acted negligently, an issue your attorney will affirm in your case.

If charged with gross negligence, your attorney could argue you were negligent but not grossly as presented by the prosecution. By proving ordinary negligence, your attorney will seek to have reduced penalties. PC 192(c)(2) convictions attract less severe penalties than PC 192(c)(1) convictions.

The Victim’s Death Did Not Result From Your Negligence

Death results in heightened emotions, and in the pursuit of accountability, a victim or a third party’s actions could have caused the victim’s demise. Recall that the victim’s death in vehicular manslaughter charges should be a direct, natural, or probable consequence of negligent actions while operating a vehicle. Therefore, an experienced attorney will focus on the actions the victim or a third party took that led to the victim’s demise and thus prove that your actions did not result in the victim’s death.

Additionally, an attorney could rely on the testimony of an accident reconstruction expert to demonstrate what happened to counter the prosecution’s version of events.

You Were Faced With An Emergency And Acted Reasonably Given The Circumstances

When faced with an emergency, California law requires that you act like what a reasonable individual would do, given the circumstances. If you did so, you are not negligent and cannot be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter. This defense is particularly suitable in situations where you used an evasive maneuver to avoid hitting a person, animal, or object but, in the process, ended up killing another.

Offenses Related to Vehicular Manslaughter

Prosecutors could decide to add to your charge sheet additional crimes related to vehicular manslaughter. They could also opt for said charges instead of Penal Code 192(c) violation. Some of the related offenses include:

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Killing another while operating a vehicle under the influence violates Penal Code 191.5(b).

With Ordinary Negligence

It must be clear that:

  • You were intoxicated while operating the vehicle involved in the crash — Both alcohol and drugs will be considered
  • You committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or a lawful act carried out in a manner likely to result in death
  • You acted with ordinary negligence at the time of carrying out the misdemeanor or infraction
  • Your negligent actions resulted in the death of another

Only in establishing the above elements as true will you be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence.

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler. That means prosecutors could either charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony violation. They will factor in the circumstances of the case and your criminal history to determine which offense to charge you for. If you have a criminal record, it is more likely they pursue felony charges.

A misdemeanor conviction will result in a jail term not exceeding one year or informal summary probation. Additionally, the preceding judge could impose a fine not exceeding $1,000.

Felony convictions, on the other hand, result in up to four years in prison. A judge could impose formal probation instead of time in prison. Further, defendants could also part with $10,000 in fines.

With Gross Negligence

For gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you must have acted with gross negligence. To prove this, prosecutors must demonstrate the following to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • You operated the vehicle in the crash while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both.
  • You committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or an otherwise lawful act in a manner likely to cause death
  • You acted with gross negligence while committing the infraction or misdemeanor
  • Your gross negligent actions resulted in the death of another

Gross negligence, as detailed above, goes beyond error in judgment or careless action. That is why this offense is a felony violation. Therefore, prosecutors will also be keen on the following additional issues that demonstrate gross negligence.

  • Your BAC exceeded the legal limit of 0.08%
  • You were under 21 years of age at the time of the crash and had a BAC level exceeding 0.05%

A conviction of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence is punishable by a prison sentence of four, six, or ten years and a fine of no more than $10,000.

  1. Watson Murder

Watson murder is also referred to as DUI murder. You are guilty of this offense if you had a prior DUI conviction and subsequently killed another individual while operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both.

DUI murder is prosecuted as a second-degree murder offense. You will only be found guilty if the following are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Your actions that led to the demise of another were deliberate — Consuming drugs, alcohol, or both before operating a vehicle are deliberate actions
  • Your actions posed a dangerous risk to human life
  • You acted with reckless disregard for human life

You must not have intended to kill another to be guilty of DUI murder. The lack of intent to kill another differentiates first-degree from second-degree murder. However, implied malice has to be evident for a conviction.

Implied malice in Watson murder cases is demonstrated by proving you had special knowledge of the adverse effects of drunk driving. EMTs and law enforcement officers fall into this category because the nature of their work puts them in situations where they have first-hand knowledge of the effects of intoxicated driving.

Prosecutors will introduce your attendance of a court-mandated DUI program or a read or signed Watson admonition into evidence if you are a previous DUI offender.

A Watson admonition or advisement details that a defendant understands that alcohol and drugs impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely and that these actions pose a danger to human life.

Additionally, it states that a defendant acknowledges that should he/she continue driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both and their actions result in the death of another, he/she will be charged with murder under California law.

Watson murders are felonies and are punishable by a 15-year-to-life prison sentence. Additionally, a conviction results in a fine of up to $10,000 and a strike under California’s Three Strikes law. If you have two or more prior strikes, you will receive a mandatory 25 years-to-life prison sentence.

You also could receive additional penalties if there were survivors in the crash. Three to six years will be added to your prison sentence for each surviving victim who suffered significant bodily injury. An extra one year will be added to your sentence for each surviving victim who suffered minor injuries, with a three-year maximum.

Contact An Experienced Criminal Attorney Near Me

Vehicular manslaughter is a serious charge, as the penalties indicate. The consequences extend to your personal life because a conviction will result in a criminal record. Financial institutions, employers, and society, in general, shy away from associating with those with a criminal conviction. Thus, a guilty verdict will adversely impact your social and financial life.

You can avoid all these challenges by partnering with an experienced attorney. Their knowledge, guidance, and representation increase your chances at a reduced sentence, if not a dismissal of your case-- all favorable outcomes. You should, therefore, hire one immediately after an accident.

If you or a loved one is being investigated or charged with vehicular manslaughter in Santa Ana, CA, do not hesitate. Contact Darwish Law. Our team is ready to offer the needed assistance to fight the charges. Contact us today at 714-887-4810.