Driving and Death: Types of Vehicular Manslaughter in California
Driving a vehicle is inherently dangerous in itself (especially in California.) Being involved in an accident is traumatic; a traffic fatality is tragic. When driving results in a human being's death, the prosecution can charge a count of Vehicular Manslaughter. A driver personally responsible for the death of another may be charged in six different ways, depending on both the degree of negligence and whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of driving.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter?
The California Penal Code (§192(c) PC) defines (involuntary)Vehicular manslaughter (without violation of 23152 CVC) as:
- The unlawful killing of a human being;
- Without malice; and
- While driving a motor vehicle.
The vehicular manslaughter statute further breaks down the criminal liability by evaluating the conduct that resulted in death:
- The driving was an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
- Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.
- Driving a vehicle and intentionally causing a collision for the purpose of committing insurance fraud (this can also be charged as murder.) (Penal Code 192(c)(1-3))
What is the Punishment for Non-DUI Vehicular Manslaughter?
A violation of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter (non-DUI) is a "wobbler;" it can either be filed as a misdemeanor or felony. As a misdemeanor, the maximum punishment is up to a year in county jail.
As a felony, gross vehicular manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
Non-gross (simple) negligent vehicular manslaughter (non-DUI) is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter while DUI?
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice when driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The killing must be either the proximate result of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony and with and with gross negligence or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might unlawfully produce death. Violations of this statute are filed with either gross negligence or ordinary negligence.
What is the difference between Gross Negligence and Ordinary Negligence for Vehicular Manslaughter Charges?
Ordinary negligence can be proven by violation of any vehicle code contributing to the victim's death or even failing to act reasonably if such failure is a cause of the fatality. Gross negligence "must be determined by considering the overall circumstances of the defendant's intoxication or how he or she drove, or other relevant aspects of the defendant's conduct resulting in the fatal accident. Gross negligence can be shown by the manner in which the defendant operated the vehicle, that is, the overall circumstances rather than the mere fact of the traffic violation. A jury should consider all relevant circumstances, including the level of intoxication, to determine if the defendant acted with a conscious disregard of the consequences rather than with mere inadvertence". People v. Hansen (1992) 10 Cal. App. 4th 1065
The California Supreme court defined gross negligence as "the exercise of so slight a degree of care as to raise a presumption of conscious indifference to the consequences. The state of mind of a person who acts with conscious indifference to the consequences is simply, "I don't care what happens." The test is objective: whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have been aware of the risk involved.” People v. Ochoa (Cal. Dec. 30, 1993), 6 Cal. 4th 1199.
What is the Potential Punishment for Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
Gross vehicular manslaughter (except with prior convictions) is punishable in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.
What is the Potential Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated (non-gross, ordinary negligence)?
This violation is a wobbler and thus is punishable in the county jail for up to a year (as a misdemeanor); or punishable for 16 months, 2, or 4 years in prison as a felony.
Warning: Any vehicular homicide may also be charged as murder if the prosecution can prove the driver held a subjective awareness of the risk to human life and consciously disregarded it. These allegations may be tried in the conjunctive (People v. Doyle (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1251)
If you or someone you love is involved in a traffic fatality, they need legal representation immediately. Call today to see how I can help.
JB Law, APC. (760) 643-4025