Though it is seen as a less serious charge than murder, manslaughter is a very serious crime in California that comes with severe penalties that may impact you for the rest of your life. Because so much of our time is spent driving, being involved in an automobile accident is a common occurrence on the busy roads of California.
But what happens when you are involved in an accident where another person loses their life? Will you be charged with murder, homicide, or manslaughter? Are the consequences even more serious when the accident was alcohol-related?
To help you understand how these charges are defined, we will explain the difference between DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, also known as vehicular manslaughter.
DUI Manslaughter (PC 191.5(a))
California Penal Code 191.5(a) defines the crime of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
This crime, also known as DUI manslaughter, requires that the “grossly negligent act” is separate from the DUI offense and is a misdemeanor crime, infraction, or lawful act that could cause the death of another. To convict you of this crime the prosecution must prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that you committed an unlawful act or an otherwise lawful act that might cause death, you acted with gross negligence, and your grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another.
“Grossly negligent conduct” is considered to be more than just a mistake or careless act. It is conduct that creates a substantial risk of death or great bodily injury and is a far deviation from how a reasonable person would act in the same situation.
An example of this crime would be a person who is driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater decides to drive 20 miles over the speed limit, and after running a number of red lights and stop signs, hits another person in a car and kills them.
Penalties for Violating DUI Manslaughter (PC 191.5(a))
DUI manslaughter is a felony crime in California and punishable by 4, 6, or 10 years in California state prison, up to $10,000 in fines, and felony/formal probation. However, you face harsher penalties if you have a prior conviction for the following offenses:
- DUI manslaughter, gross or ordinary;
- Gross vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c);
- Vehicular manslaughter while operating a boat under PC 192.5(a) or (b)
- Vehicle Code (VC) 23152 DUI; or
- VC 23153 DUI causing injury
If convicted of DUI manslaughter with one of these prior convictions, you face a state prison sentence of 15 years to life.
Additionally, the California DMV will revoke your driver’s license for a minimum of 3 years.
PC 191.5(b) also defines vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as having the same definition as PC 191.5(a), except for PC 191.5(b) you have needed to only act with ordinary negligence, not gross negligence, meaning you failed to act in a way that a reasonable person would to avoid harming another.
PC 191.5(b) is often used as a charge reduction or a plea bargain to a PC 191.5(a) charge because it is a wobbler crime, meaning it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony based on your criminal history and the circumstances of the case. As a misdemeanor, you face up to 1 year in county jail. As a felony, you face up to 4 years in state prison.
Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192(c))
California Penal Code 192(c) defines vehicular manslaughter as:
- Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with or without gross negligence; or
- Driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with or without gross negligence.
Though the crime is similar to DUI manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c) does not require that you have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs when the incident occurred.
In order to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c), the prosecution must prove the following:
- While driving a vehicle, you committed a misdemeanor, infraction, or otherwise lawful act in an unlawful manner;
- The misdemeanor, infraction, or otherwise lawful act was dangerous to human life under the circumstances of its commission;
- You committed the misdemeanor, infraction, or otherwise lawful act with gross or ordinary negligence; and
- The misdemeanor, infraction, or otherwise lawful act caused the death of another person.
It is important to note that PC 192(c)(1) requires you to commit the act with gross negligence while PC 192(c)(2) requires you to have committed the act with ordinary negligence.
PC 192(c)(3), known as vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, requires you to knowingly cause a collision with the purpose of making a false insurance claim for financial gain and with the intent of defrauding the insurance company or another party.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192(c))
PC 192(c)(1) is a wobbler crime.
- If charged as a misdemeanor you face misdemeanor probation, up to 1 year in county jail, and up to $1,000 in fines.
- If charged as a felony you face felony probation, 2, 4, or 6 years in California state prison, and up to $10,000 in fines.
PC 192(c)(2) is a misdemeanor crime and carries the same penalties as PC 192(c)(1) when charged as a misdemeanor.
PC 192(c)(3) is always a felony crime and the penalties include up to $10,000 in fines and/or 4, 6, or 10 years in state prison.
If convicted of PC 192(c)(1) or PC 192(c)(3), your license will be revoked by the California DMV for a minimum of 3 years.
Defenses for DUI Manslaughter (PC 191.5(a)) and Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192(c))
With the professional help of one of the experienced DUI or criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich, you can challenge any DUI Manslaughter (PC 191.5(a)) or Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192(c)) charges you may face. During a trial, your attorney will present evidence that strengthens your case including challenging any blood or breath tests conducted while being detained by law enforcement. Your attorney can collect witness testimony that may be a crucial factor in your case. Your attorney may also be able to call into question law enforcement’s conduct during the arrest and investigation process.
In an effort to reduce your charges from DUI manslaughter to vehicular homicide, a skilled Wallin & Klarich DUI attorney can create a defense arguing that your actions were not made with gross negligence. Your attorney may be able to show that you were faced with an emergency while driving and acted as reasonably as a person could given the circumstances. The prosecution is required to prove that the decisions you made while driving were grossly negligent, or that those actions caused another person’s death.
Contact the Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or a loved one has been accused of manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney immediately. At Wallin & Klarich, our DUI attorneys have over 35 years of experience successfully defending our clients from vehicular homicide and manslaughter charges. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles and San Diego, you can find an experienced Wallin & Klarich DUI attorney available near you no matter where you are located.
Call our office today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.