Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter is a very serious offense, one of the most serious of all crimes that can be committed while driving an automobile.  If you or a loved one is facing a charge of vehicular manslaughter in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, it is imperative that you avail yourself of expert legal representation to avoid the severe consequences that a conviction can bring.

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we understand the gravity of the charge of vehicular manslaughter as well as the inner workings of the Los Angeles County court system. We will know how to build you a solid defense and win the best possible outcome to your case.

WHAT IS “VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER?”

California Penal Code Section 192c defines "vehicular manslaughter" as when a driver of a motor vehicle acts in a negligent or even "grossly negligent" manner, but with no "malice" or intent to harm, and the result of said action is the death of another person. The act in question can be illegal, but not felonious (for that would be a more severe crime and count as a class of murder). The act could also be a legal act so long as it was one that a reasonable person would think capable of risking the life of another person.

Here are a few examples of vehicular manslaughter:

  • A driver is distracted while talking on the phone, texting, or eating and strikes and kills a pedestrian.
  • A driver runs a red light, is speeding, or is illegally weaving around traffic and ends up colliding with another vehicle and killing one of its occupants.
  • While driving under the influence of alcohol, a driver strikes and kills another driver.
  • In the process of purposefully crashing into another vehicle to collect on an insurance claim, a driver inadvertently kills another person.

THE LAW: WHAT DOES A PROSECUTOR NEED TO PROVE?

There are three forms of vehicular manslaughter: a) Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence under Penal Code section 192 (c) (1); b) Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code section 192(c)(2); and c) vehicular manslaughter with financial gain under Penal Code section 192(c)(3)

  • Penal Code section 192(c)(1): Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence

In order to convict you of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence under Penal Code section 192(c)(1), the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the following: while driving, you committed either a misdemeanor or infraction or an otherwise lawful act committed in a manner that might cause death; under the specific circumstances, the act you committed endangered human life; you acted with gross negligence; and your act caused the death of another human being.

            “A misdemeanor, infraction, or lawful act that could cause death”

In order to prove you guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that you committed an act that is not a felony but an infraction or misdemeanor, or you committed a lawful act in a manner that was likely to result in the death of another human being.  If the act that you committed was a felony and it resulted in the death of another human being, then you cannot be charged with vehicular manslaughter.  Instead, you may be charged with murder under the felony murder rule.

“Gross negligence”

The prosecutor must prove that you acted with gross negligence. “Gross negligence” is more than inattentiveness, carelessness, or lapse in judgment.  The prosecutor can prove gross negligence only if a) your conduct was so reckless that it created a high risk of death or great bodily injury; and b) a reasonable person in your exact position would have known that acting in the precise manner that you acted would create such a risk.

“Causing the death of another”

The prosecutor must prove that your grossly negligent act actually caused the death of another human being.  This means that the death of the victim must have been the direct probable, and natural result of your action.   If the death was caused by an intervening factor that bore no direct relationship to your conduct, then the prosecutor cannot prove the “causation” element of the code.  However, note that the prosecutor need not prove that your gross negligence was the only cause of death but that it was one “substantial factor in causing it.

  • Penal Code section 192(c)(2): Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter

In order to convict you of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the following: while driving, you committed a misdemeanor or an infraction; under the specific circumstances, the act you committed was dangerous to human life; you acted with ordinary negligence; your act caused the death of another human being.

        “Ordinary negligence”

Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter involves a lower level of culpability than vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.  While the latter requires “gross negligence,” the former only requires negligence.  You act with “ordinary negligence” when you fail use reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm to another human being.

  • Penal Code section 192(c): Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain

To prove you guilty of vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt the following: while driving a vehicle, you intentionally caused a collision; your purpose was to make a false insurance claim for financial gain; and the intentional collision caused the death of another human being.  In other words, if you unintentionally kill somebody while deliberately wrecking a car for financial gain, you are guilty of vehicular manslaughter.

Related Charges

Some of the examples listed above could be prosecuted under different but similar statutes to 192c. A felony charge of murder can be leveled if the defendant is thought to have been in the process of committing a felony when the incident of vehicular manslaughter occurred. This falls under PC 187. An example might be a man who runs over and kills a pedestrian while fleeing police after robbing a bank. PC 191.5 addresses acts of vehicular manslaughter that occur while the driver is DUI or DUID. Especially strict sentencing elements may apply, and the defendant's driver's license will certainly be in jeopardy.

Possible Penalties

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor, and it will be the details of each incident along with the defendant's past criminal record (if any) that determine which is charged by the prosecutor. As a misdemeanor, vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, summary probation, and a $1,000 fine.

As a felony, it is punishable by two to four years in prison, formal probation, and a $10,000 fine. Note that both vehicular manslaughter with negligence and with gross negligence can be charged as either felony or misdemeanor, though the severer crime would be more likely filed as a felony than the less severe one. If the act leading to vehicular manslaughter is found to have been done for the sake of financial gain, it will invariably be filed as a felony and could bring not only the $10,000 fine but also four to ten years in state prison. If vehicular manslaughter is committed and the defendant subsequently flees the scene of the accident (a hit and run), an extra five years in prison can be added to the sentence.

License Suspension

Those who are convicted on a count of vehicular manslaughter may or may not have their California driver's license suspended. It will depend on the merits of each case and on the decision of the presiding judge. 

However, if you are convicted of either vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence or of vehicular manslaughter done for financial gain, you will most certainly lose your driving privileges, typically for three full years. And if you drive while your license is suspended, you could be convicted of that crime as well under VC 14601.

Common Defenses

There are many possible defenses against the charge of vehicular manslaughter. Any of the elements of the crime may be challenged, such as that you were indeed driving the vehicle (otherwise it is a case of "mistaken identity"), that you acted with negligence (versus it simply being an unavoidable accident), or that the accident was the cause of the victim's death.

On the last point, note that, if an "intervening or contributory" cause of the victim's death can be shown to have occurred, and that other cause was not under the defendant's control, the charge may well end up being dismissed or at least reduced.

Next, it may be possible to show that your rights were in some way violated during an illegal search/seizure of your property in order to get evidence declared inadmissible.

Finally, note that, even if a dismissal or acquittal cannot be obtained, there may be mitigating factors that the presiding judge will take into consideration in allowing jail time to be converted to community service or probation.

Contact Us Today for Help

At Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys, we can assist you in building a strong case and winning a dismissal, acquittal, reduction to a lesser charge, or a reduced sentence when facing allegations of vehicular manslaughter. We know how to obtain a favorable outcome even in the most difficult cases.

To learn more or for a free legal consultation, contact us 24/7 at 424-333-0943.

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