California law defines vehicular manslaughter as the act of driving in a negligent or unlawful manner, which results in someone else’s death.
The penalty for vehicular manslaughter can vary, depending on:
- The degree of negligence involved,
- Whether or not the driver was intoxicated, and
- The driver’s criminal record.
Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to a year in county jail and fines of up to $1,000. However, if the driver was found to be acting in gross negligence or for financial gain, the penalties for vehicular manslaughter can rise significantly.
Because the consequences for a vehicular manslaughter conviction can vary so greatly, it’s important to speak directly with a skilled criminal defense attorney who can help you understand the charges against you and can help you build your defense.
What is vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence?
In California, vehicular manslaughter cases are typically classified into two categories: Ordinary negligence and gross negligence. To better understand gross negligence cases, let’s first describe ordinary negligence.
Under Penal Code 192 PC, ordinary vehicular manslaughter is when someone:
- Commits a misdemeanor or infraction, or otherwise commits a lawful act that might otherwise cause death,
- This act was dangerous to human life under the circumstances,
- This act caused the death of another person.
A classic example of this might involve someone texting while driving. With their attention off of the road, the driver fails to see a pedestrian in a crosswalk and they hit and kill them.
Here, the driver was guilty of a few infractions (texting while driving and failing to yield in a crosswalk), and their act was responsible for the pedestrian’s death.
Cases of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, as defined under California Penal Code 192(c)(1) PC, include the three elements above plus “gross negligence.”
Gross negligence is when someone:
- Engages in an act that is so reckless as to be a danger to human life, and
- A reasonable person would have known that acting this way would present this risk.
An example of gross negligence would be driving 100 mph on a residential street. Even if the driver does not cause an accident, their actions could result in death or great bodily injury.
In cases of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, prosecutors will often seek harsher penalties and might even attempt to try the case as second-degree murder.
Penalties for vehicular manslaughter in California
Ordinary vehicular manslaughter is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by:
- Summary probation
- Up to a year in county jail
- Fines of up to $1,000
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a “wobbler,” meaning that it can be tried either as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the defendant’s criminal history and the circumstances of the case. As a felony, penalties can rise to:
- Felony probation
- Up to six years in California State Prison
- Fines of up to $10,000
Lastly, if prosecutors can prove that the vehicular manslaughter act was driven by motivation for financial gain, the prison sentence can range as high as 10 years.
Defenses against vehicular manslaughter charges
Because the penalty for vehicular manslaughter can vary so much depending on the circumstances, it’s important to speak directly with a criminal defense attorney who can help tailor an ideal defense strategy for you.
Some common defenses against these charges include arguing that:
- The driver was not negligent in their actions (e.g., they were driving at an appropriate speed for the road conditions)
- The driver was facing a sudden emergency and was acting reasonably under the circumstances
- There is insufficient evidence to prove that the driver caused someone’s death
Ultimately, only an experienced attorney can advise you of what defenses may be available based on your unique situation. If you are facing charges for vehicular manslaughter in California, it’s important to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.
Robert M. Helfend is a criminal defense attorney based in Los Angeles, California. He has more than 30 years of experience defending those charged with vehicular manslaughter and other serious crimes. Call today for a free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.