Vehicular manslaughter is a serious crime throughout the country, specifically in California. It occurs when you cause another person’s death while driving illegally. You could face vehicular manslaughter charges due to your actions or after a plea bargain for DUI murder. After a conviction, you will likely face a lengthy prison sentence and a hefty fine. A conviction has other severe consequences that can affect many aspects of your life, including your career.
You will also go through a stressful legal process that can be impossible to navigate alone. You require the support and guidance of a criminal defense lawyer to navigate the complicated legal process and fight for a fair result for your case. If you face vehicular manslaughter charges in Anaheim, our team of experienced defense attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group can significantly assist you. We employ the most effective legal defense strategies to fight your charges and achieve a favorable outcome.
Legal Meaning of Vehicular Manslaughter
The law governing vehicular manslaughter is in Penal Code 192. Unlike voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, the crime occurs while a person operates a vehicle. It is regarded as a type of negligent homicide. You could face charges for vehicular manslaughter if you drive a car illegally or carelessly and cause an accident in which someone loses their life. The nature and severity of your charges will be determined by whether you drove with ordinary or gross negligence.
You deserve a fair trial if the police arrest you for vehicular manslaughter, even with compelling evidence. The jury will decide the final verdict of your case based on the evidence available. The district attorney will present all the evidence the police have gathered against you to support your criminal charges during the trial. Recall that the burden of proof always lies with the prosecution team in criminal cases. The district attorney must prove all the offense elements provided under the law beyond a reasonable doubt. That is the only time the jury will deliver a guilty verdict. The judge will dismiss all charges against you if that does not happen. The district attorney must prove these elements of this offense:
- You were operating a vehicle.
- While doing so, you committed a crime or legal act unlawfully.
- Your actions were life-threatening.
- Your actions were negligent.
- Your actions caused another person’s death.
Texting or eating while driving, speeding, or reckless driving are all illegal acts you can commit while operating a vehicle. But remember that committing a legal action, like overtaking, can result in vehicular manslaughter charges if you commit the act unlawfully.
The Legal Meaning of Negligence
Negligence is a necessary component of this offense. The district attorney must prove that your actions were negligent beyond a reasonable doubt for the judge to give a guilty verdict. Negligence happens when you violate your legal responsibility of care, resulting in another person's demise.
You are responsible for caring for all road users as a motorist. It means you must drive cautiously to ensure the safety of everyone on the road, including yourself. A duty of care is your obligation to road users, like other motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, as a driver. This duty holds you accountable for any lawful or unlawful willful actions you take on the road.
A driver must avoid any foreseeable danger to themselves or others on the road. For example, a driver who speeds without regard for users will likely cause an accident in which many people could sustain injuries. As a result, a motorist must operate a vehicle carefully and at a safe speed to ensure everyone on the road is safe.
A breach of this duty occurs when you fail to act appropriately while driving, putting road users in danger. As a driver, you can breach your obligation by engaging in an illegal act or failing to respond as a reasonably prudent person would. Commercial drivers, for example, must take adequate breaks between shifts to avoid driving while fatigued. If you continue to operate without resting, you could fall asleep while driving, endangering road users. You will be criminally liable for any injuries if you cause an accident while driving tired.
The Consequences of Your Actions
Charges of vehicular manslaughter require a specific result of your negligence: another person’s or people’s demise. Your charges will not be heard in court until the prosecutor establishes that your negligent actions resulted in another person dying. Criminal court judges consider several factors in determining your level of negligence and its contribution to another person's demise. You are not guilty under this law if your negligent acts were negligible and not the primary cause of the person's death.
The judge will also consider the facts of your case to determine negligence. The degree of negligence varies according to the situation and location. Speeding, for example, when few cars are on the road, and the weather is clear, is not considered criminal negligence. But, speeding in heavy traffic or foggy weather is negligent enough to cause a severe accident where road users could be killed or injured.
Types of Vehicular Manslaughter Charges You Could Face
The prosecutor can file charges for vehicular manslaughter against you based on the particulars of your case. Charges under this statute can take the following forms:
Charges of Ordinary Vehicular Manslaughter
If you caused another person's demise while operating a vehicle with ordinary negligence, you could face charges under Penal Code 192(c) (2). Ordinary negligence happens when you drive a car, commit an infraction or misdemeanor, or commit a legal act with ordinary negligence, resulting in a person's death. Ordinary negligence happens when you fail to use reasonable caution, as a reasonable person would, to avoid an unforeseeable danger to another individual. You also commit ordinary negligence if you do not act with the care a reasonable person would have exercised in a similar situation.
Remember that you have a duty to other drivers and road users as a driver. Your duty entails driving with caution and following all traffic laws. Driving recklessly and with poor judgment on the road can constitute ordinary negligence. If an ordinary negligent act results in another person's demise, you can face misdemeanor charges under vehicular manslaughter law. However, the DA must demonstrate that your actions or inactions were the likely, natural, or contributing cause of the person's death.
For example, suppose your actions cause you to collide with a cyclist, causing severe injuries and death. Your actions are directly responsible for the cyclist's death. That will provide evidence in support of your misdemeanor charges under this law.
If you are guilty of a misdemeanor under this law, you will likely face these penalties:
- Misdemeanor or summary probation, or
- Jail time for a maximum of one year.
- Court fines not exceeding $1000.
You could also face charges for vehicular manslaughter with intoxication. Therefore, the prosecution team must prove the following:
- You were operating a car while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol.
- Your BAC level at the time of arrest was at .08% or more.
If your actions were ordinarily negligent and you faced charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the consequences could be severe. Vehicular manslaughter, when intoxicated with ordinary negligence, is a wobbler offense. The prosecutor can file felony or misdemeanor charges against you. Their decision depends on the circumstances of your case and your criminal history.
A misdemeanor charge could result in a jail term of one year and a court fine of not more than $1000. A felony sentence can result in a prison penalty of sixteen months, two(2) or three(3) years.
Vehicular manslaughter with Gross Negligence
You can face charges for vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c) (1) if the facts of your case show that your actions were grossly negligent. Here are the facts of this crime that the district attorney must for you to be guilty under this statute:
- You were operating a vehicle.
- While doing so, you committed a crime or legal act illegally.
- Your actions were life-threatening.
- They were criminally negligent.
- Your actions or inactions caused another person to lose their life.
Gross negligence is more severe than ordinary negligence because it demonstrates your callous disregard for humanity. It exceeds ordinary inattention, recklessness, and misjudgment. It includes actions executed with reckless abandon that pose a significant risk of bodily harm. A reasonable person would know or should have understood that your actions would endanger others.
Based on your case and criminal history, vehicular manslaughter committed with gross negligence can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony. If you are guilty of a misdemeanor under this statute, the judge can give you the following penalties:
- Summary probation, or
- Time in jail for one year.
- Court fines of $1000.
A felony sentence, on the other hand, is punishable by:
- Felony probation.
- Prison time for 2, 4, or 6 years.
- Court fines of $10,000.
A misdemeanor or felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter committed with gross negligence carries severe DMV consequences, including the possibility of losing your driver's license for a minimum of three years.
Under the Three Strikes Law, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a strike offense. If you commit another strike, it can impact your future sentences. For example, if this is your first strike, a subsequent strike conviction will double the penalties the law imposes. If you already have one strike conviction and this is your second, you will face double punishment under this statute. A third strike’s likely punishment is 25 years to life in prison.
Vehicular Manslaughter for Monetary Gain
You will face charges under Penal Code 192(c) if you commit vehicular manslaughter for monetary gain (3). The district attorney must prove these elements of this offense for the court to find you guilty:
- That you knowingly took part in or caused an accident while operating a vehicle.
- You did so to gain some money.
- You intended to defraud an insurance provider or another company.
- The accident caused another person to lose their life.
That is a straight felony offense, punishable by:
- 4, 6, or 10 years in prison.
- Court fines of $10,000.
Other Conviction Consequences for Vehicular Manslaughter
Those guilty of vehicular manslaughter face jail or prison time and court fines. However, these are only the penalties you will encounter at sentencing. Other consequences follow you even after you have served your jail/prison time. If you face criminal charges under this law, you must consider everything you stand to lose to prepare a strong defense. Hiring a qualified criminal defense attorney can improve your possibility of obtaining a fair outcome.
For example, a criminal record can affect many aspects of your life for a very long time. You will have a criminal record even after serving your punishment and paying all court fines. It will make it difficult for you to obtain certain services, like rental services. It is because landlords always conduct background checks on potential tenants before renting. You could lose several opportunities to live in a good neighborhood because of your criminal history.
Before hiring new employees, employers conduct background checks on them as well. They will most likely base their hiring decision on what they discover in your criminal background. Finding suitable employment can be difficult even after serving your sentence if you have a criminal record.
A felony conviction will also have an impact on your gun rights. Adults in California are permitted to own and purchase firearms if they obtain a gun permit. However, you can exercise that right under certain conditions, like after a felony conviction. Based on the facts of your case, you could lose your gun rights for life or a set period.
Expungement of Your Criminal Record
Removing a conviction from your criminal history is done through expungement. It removes all of the negative consequences and disabilities associated with a criminal conviction.
After serving your time or probation, you can file a petition with the court for an expungement. In addition, you must have paid all court fines and restitution (if it applies to your case).
When the court receives your expungement request, the judge will review it and consider different factors, like the facts of your case and how you performed during probation, before making a decision. If the court grants your request, your conviction record will be erased. Anyone running a background check on you will not find that conviction and will not use it to make a decision.
Defending Yourself Against Vehicular Manslaughter Charges
Vehicular manslaughter is among the most serious offenses under criminal law. It carries life-altering penalties and consequences, like incarceration and a hefty fine, and severe effects, like loss of gun rights, driving privileges, and immigration consequences. To avoid a conviction and the severe consequences that come with it, you must defend yourself against your charges. You can defend yourself with the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer. Fortunately, your attorney can use several legal defense strategies to persuade the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges. Among these strategies are the following:
Your Actions Were Not Negligent
The district attorney must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions were negligent to be guilty of vehicular manslaughter. However, proving negligence is a daily challenge for prosecutors. The prosecution must verify that your actions exceeded reasonable care, which can sometimes be challenging. Your attorney can use this to poke holes in the prosecutor's case by arguing that, while you acted in such a way that someone else died, you did not act with ordinary or gross negligence. If the jury accepts their case, the judge can drop your charges.
Other Factors Caused the Victim’s Death
Only if your actions while operating a vehicle resulted in another person's demise are you guilty of vehicular manslaughter. The judge would dismiss your charges if the person's death were caused by factors other than your actions. The district attorney must establish the alleged victim's death case to build their case against you. Remember that various factors can cause a person's death in a car accident. The burden is on the prosecutor to establish that your actions were the probable or direct cause of the victim's death. If an accident expert proves otherwise, the court will drop or reduce your charges.
You Were Not The Driver
Drivers who commit illegal or legal actions resulting in another person's death are typically charged with vehicular manslaughter. You could not face charges under this statute if you were not the driver. If the prosecutor claims that you were operating the car that caused the accident, you can demonstrate that you were not the driver or that your car was not moving. Your car could have been with another person during the accident, or another driver could have caused the crash while you were at the scene. If your attorney can demonstrate this, the judge will drop your charges.
Your Actions Were Reasonable Under the Circumstances
You can use this defense if you believe your behavior was reasonable or necessary at the time. For example, suppose you were attempting to avoid imminent danger or faced an emergency and needed to act quickly. You could have veered off the road, causing an accident in which someone lost their life. However, remember that how well you represent your case is based on how skilled and experienced your defense lawyer is. That is why, if you face criminal charges, you should take your time in selecting legal representation. An experienced lawyer who has handled similar cases will understand how to present evidence to persuade the jury of your innocence. The court will quickly drop your charges as a result.
Vehicular Manslaughter and Related Charges
The law against vehicular manslaughter is closely related to the following laws:
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Suppose you commit vehicular manslaughter while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You will face charges under this law. This offense is distinct from vehicular manslaughter, defined in Penal Code 191.5. The law only applies if you cause someone’s death while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This law can subject you to charges if you operate with ordinary or gross negligence. Drinking while intoxicated, as defined by this law, means:
- You were operating a vehicle while under drugs or alcohol influence, as under VC 23152(a).
- Your BAC was higher than the allowed standard of 0.08%.
- You are below 21 years, and your BAC was at 0.05% or greater.
- You were operating a vehicle while under the effect of drugs, under VC 23152(f).
The offense of vehicular manslaughter is less severe than vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If you face charges under the law and the district attorney fails to prove that you were driving while intoxicated, the court can instead find you guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
Watson Murder or DUI Murder
Watson murder is a more serious crime than reckless driving. Charges under this law can be levied if you kill someone while operating under the effect of alcohol or drugs. Your case's circumstances must also meet the following criteria:
- You have a prior DUI conviction in your criminal record.
- You were given a Watson advertisement or been enlightened about the risks of DUI after the previous DUI conviction.
A Watson murder charge is charged under murder laws.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Do you or someone you know face charges of vehicular manslaughter in Anaheim?
To obtain a favorable outcome, you must be well-prepared for trial. Hiring a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer is the best preparation you can make. The best lawyer will investigate the specifics of your case, advise you on your options, protect your rights, and fight hard for a favorable outcome. They will not leave your side until the end of the legal journey. We at California Criminal Lawyer Group are eager to accompany you on this challenging journey. We will not rest until you are delighted with the outcome of your case. Call us at 714-766-0965 for more details on our services.