Vehicular manslaughter refers to causing someone else's death by engaging in a lawful or unlawful offense while driving. You might be convicted of vehicular manslaughter as the primary offense or as a plea bargain for a DUI murder. The laws relating to the crime can be complicated for you to navigate. Therefore, having the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm representing you is helpful. Your attorney will help you during and after the criminal proceedings with the legal matters arising from the offense.
Overview of Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter under PC 192 is a murder that happens while operating a vehicle. The elements of the offense include:
- You committed an infraction or misdemeanor, or a legal act in an unlawful manner while driving a car. Some of the actions that could lead to a vehicular manslaughter charge include speeding, texting while driving, and reckless driving
- The action was naturally life-threatening
- You committed the act with negligence
- Another person dies due to your actions
Negligence plays an important role in the prosecution of vehicular manslaughter. Negligence occurs when the defendant breaches an existing duty of care, which leads to the death of another. Let us delve into the elements of negligence to understand how it relates to vehicular manslaughter.
- Duty of Care
The duty of care refers to the legal obligation a driver has towards other motorists and road users. The duty of care places a responsibility upon drivers for the consequences of their willful acts, whether they are lawful or not. The duty of care exists to prevent foreseeable harm to another person. For example, changing lanes without paying attention to other road users or without signaling can cause accidents and injuries to others. Therefore, a driver must signal other road users before changing lanes or making a turn.
- Breach of the Duty of Care
You breach your duty of care by failing to act when you should or responding in a way that endangers the other person. To violate the duty of care, you may either commit and act or fail to respond in a way that a sensible person could. For example, a reasonable commercial driver should not be driving when fatigued. However, if you insist on driving, and fall asleep at the wheel, you are breaching your duty of safeguarding other road users. If an accident occurs, you will be criminally culpable.
Causation implies breaching your duty of care, which results in an accident, injury, or death of another person. California courts use a substantial factor to determine the contribution of your negligence to the death or injury of another person. If your negligence is a remote or trivial factor to the demise of another, then you are not culpable for vehicular manslaughter.
When determining negligence, the court also examines the circumstances surrounding the offense. Negligence could vary depending on the context and the location of the driver. For example, speeding on a road with few cars and clear weather is not negligent. However, speeding in foggy weather on a busy street is careless and likely to cause an accident.
You may be charged with one of the different forms of vehicular manslaughter including:
- Ordinary Vehicular Manslaughter PC 192(c) (2)
Ordinary vehicular manslaughter occurs when while operating a vehicle, you commit a misdemeanor, infraction, or a lawful act with regular negligence leading to the death of another person. California laws define ordinary negligence as the failure to exercise reasonable caution to prevent foreseeable harm to another person.
You show negligence if you fail to do something, or you commit an act that a reasonable and careful person would not have committed under similar circumstances. The duty of care binds motorists to other motorists and road users. This includes obeying traffic laws and exercising caution while driving.
Carelessness and poor judgment are examples of ordinary negligence. When such negligence causes the demise of another person, you will be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The action causes the death of the person if it is a probable, contributing, or direct cause of death. For example, if you hit a passenger and he or she dies later from the injuries sustained, then the accident is the cause of his or her death.
The penalties for misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter include a maximum jail term of one year and a fine not over $1000. Your defense lawyer may request misdemeanor probation as alternative sentencing.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a distinct crime that occurs when you cause someone else's death while:
- Driving under the influence
- Driving with a BAC of .08% or higher
- Driving under the influence of drugs
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and with ordinary negligence PC 191.5 (b) is a wobbler. The potential penalties include up to a year in county jail and $1000 in fines for a misdemeanor. A felony conviction carries a sentence of 16 months, two years or three years in state prison.
- Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence PC 192 (c) (1)
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence has similar elements to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. These include:
- You commit a misdemeanor or infraction, or a lawful act unlawfully while driving
- The act was life-threatening
- Your actions were grossly negligent
- Your actions led to the death of someone else
Gross negligence refers to deeds that display a wanton disregard for human life. They go beyond ordinary recklessness, inattentiveness, or misjudgment. They include actions committed with recklessness that created a risk for significant bodily injury to other people. A sensible person knows or should have known the danger the action posed but would have chosen to ignore it.
Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a wobbler offense whose penalties depend on the facts of the crime as well as your criminal record.
When convicted as a misdemeanor, the penalties include:
- Summary probation
- A one-year sentence in county jail
- $1000 in fines
The penalties for a felony conviction include:
- Formal probation
- State prison incarceration for two, four or six years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
For both misdemeanor and felony convictions, the DMV will revoke your license for a minimum of three years from the date of revocation.
- Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain
Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain PC 192 (c) (3) is an offense, which occurs when:
- You knowingly participate in or cause a collision while driving
- You gain financially
- You defraud the insurance company or another party
- The collision causes the death of someone else
Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is a felony punished by a fine not exceeding $1000 and incarceration for four, six, or ten years in California state prison. The DMV will also suspend your license for at least three years. Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence can also lead to a strike on your record.
Your case is not hopeless if you are charged with vehicular manslaughter. You can use several arguments to fight the charges against you. Prosecutors may reduce or dismiss your charges depending on the evidence against you and the skill of your lawyer. The defenses can be used at any stage, either during the pretrial or trial phases. These defenses include:
- You were not Negligent or Grossly Negligent
To be convicted for vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution has to prove that you acted with ordinary or gross negligence. However, these elements are hard to prove and are highly subjective. Proving negligence requires that the prosecution show that the action you committed was beyond reasonable carefulness.
Proving what is reasonable can be difficult in some situations. Therefore, your lawyer can convince the jury that your actions were not negligent, which could result in the reduction of your charges and penalties.
- The Victim did not Die from your Negligence
In an auto accident, the possibility that the victim or a third party was responsible for the death exists. In most cases, the defense may call upon an accident reconstruction expert to attempt to reconstruct what might have happened during the accident. This helps identify the party that acted negligently or caused the crash.
In proving that your negligence caused the accident, the prosecution has to demonstrate that it is a probable or natural cause of death. Even if there are other causes, then the crash resulting from your negligence has to be a substantial factor contributing to death.
- You were not Driving
Vehicular manslaughter occurs if you are operating a vehicle. However, if you are not driving or someone else was driving the car at the time of the accident, then you are not guilty of the offense.
Prosecutors might use circumstantial evidence such as the person to whom the vehicle is registered to conclude that the owner was driving at the time of the accident. You can provide proof such as a report of your car being stolen or eyewitnesses to prove that you were not driving.
- Your Actions were Reasonable under the Circumstances
In some cases, vehicular manslaughter can occur while trying to avoid further harm or when you face an emergency. For example, you may have to swerve suddenly to avoid a rough patch on the road, or to avoid an animal or another motorist. You can show that your actions were reasonable under the circumstances.
The success of your defense depends on how well your lawyer represents you and the arguments he or she brings forth. Therefore, you have to take your time when hiring him or her. Ask questions to determine whether you feel comfortable trusting your case to him/her or not.
In some cases, you may be unable to hire a private attorney. The court will assign a public defender on your behalf. However, before settling for a public defender, shop around to find out whether you can find an affordable lawyer. Check out the payment plans and choose the one that fits your budget adequately.
The Impact of Vehicular Manslaughter Conviction
If you are convicted for vehicular manslaughter, the crime will affect you both in the short and long-term. The short-term effects include jail time and fines. Long-term consequences include:
- License suspension: the DMV will revoke your license for three years, during which you have to arrange other means of transport. If you insist on driving, you can attract additional charges for driving with a suspended license.
- If you flee the scene of the accident, you will receive an additional five years on your sentence
- Employment consequences including job loss and difficulties in getting a new job as some employers do not hire persons with a misdemeanor or felony conviction. Therefore, a vehicular manslaughter conviction will deny you many job opportunities for which you are qualified.
- A felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter charges disqualifies you from holding a public office, volunteering in public schools, or being a member of the jury.
- A conviction will appear on background checks, which can adversely affect your educational pursuits. A conviction can also complicate your ability to find accommodation in areas where landlords run a background check on potential tenants.
- The insurance company might increase your premiums or cancel your policy. Causing an accident makes you a high-risk driver in the eyes of insurance providers. They might have to pay for damages in case the victim sues for damages from the accident you cause.
- The family of the victim might bring a civil lawsuit against you to seek compensation for the death of their loved one
You can avoid these consequences in several ways, including:
Reducing a Felony Offense to a Misdemeanor
You can apply for a reduction of a conviction if the crime for which you were convicted is a wobbler, and it was convicted as a felony. Most employers consider misdemeanors to be less serious offenses and may hire you with a misdemeanor on your record. You must have completed felony probation before the charges are reduced.
Expunging a California Conviction (PC 1203.4)
Expunging a conviction is the best option as it protects you from the negative consequences of a criminal record. You can have your records expunged if:
- You have completed the probation for a felony or misdemeanor offense. Completing probation means that you adhered to all the conditions of probation and did not commit additional violations during the probation period.
- You did not serve time in state prison. Hiring a competent defense attorney can help you avoid a state prison sentence in favor of probation in case you are sentenced. Note that, if you serve time in state prison for vehicular manslaughter, you may not be eligible for expungement of your records.
- You are not currently charged with a crime, on probation or incarcerated for a crime
In case you violated some probation conditions, the court may still grant your request to have your records expunged by determining:
- The seriousness of the offense for which you were convicted
- Your overall performance while on probation
- Your criminal history
- Other relevant information that shows you deserve the expungement. This information might include your family's support, ties to the community, and the chances you have in securing a good job.
You can petition for expungement in person. Your attorney or probation officer can apply on your behalf. If accepted, the court will allow you to enter a not guilty plea, and then set aside the 'guilty' verdict. The court will then dismiss your charges, thus relieving you of the burden of a conviction. However, an expungement does not relieve you of a license suspension; neither does it remove a strike on your record.
Sealing and Destroying Arrest Records
You can have your records sealed and destroyed. This can happen if you were arrested but never convicted, the case was dismissed, you were acquitted at trial, or if the conviction was vacated at an appeal.
Sealing arrest records prevent employers, landlords, partners, schools, and state licensing bodies from accessing your criminal record when they run a background check. This means that the arrest or history of charges against you does not affect your life.
You have to file a petition to seal the records with the court. The request includes your identification details. Details of your arrest, including the location, date, and the law enforcement agency that arrested you should be included. The case or court number, the offenses, your statement about why the records should be sealed form part of the information in your petition. You should then serve the request to the prosecuting attorney and the agency that arrested you.
After filing the petition, the district attorney will schedule a hearing if he or she consents to the request. You may be required to attend or have your lawyer representing you. At the hearing, the judge will examine the arrest record and any evidence you present as to why your criminal history should be sealed. The judge may rule in or against your favor. If you need your records sealed, contact an attorney to help you through the process.
Applying for a California Certificate of Rehabilitation (COR)
A COR allows you to clear your criminal record by indicating that you have become a law-abiding citizen. You are eligible for a certificate of rehabilitation if:
- You have not been imprisoned since you completed your sentence
- You are not on formal probation
- You have resided in California continuously for at least five years immediately before applying for a certificate of rehabilitation
- You have been rehabilitated since your release
A certificate of rehabilitation serves as an automatic application for the governor’s pardon. It also allows you to access better employment opportunities as well as professional licensing.
The Governor’s Pardon
A governor’s pardon is another option available to people convicted of vehicular manslaughter. It allows you to enjoy several benefits that cannot be accessed by someone with a conviction. Such benefits include:
- The right to serve on a jury
- The right to be employed as state parole or county probation officer
- You can easily apply for professional licenses without being discriminated against due to your conviction
- You can access better employment opportunities
You can apply for the governor’s pardon seven to ten years after you complete rehabilitation. You can apply for the governor’s pardon indirectly through a certificate of rehabilitation or directly. In other cases, you might receive a recommendation for clemency from the California Board of Parole Hearings if you are still in prison.
Ideally, if you need to remove the negative consequences of a vehicular manslaughter conviction, you have to contact an attorney to help you with the process. He or she will help you fill out the required forms after verifying that you are eligible.
You can be charged with the following offenses along or instead of vehicular manslaughter charges:
- Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated
If you caused someone else's death while driving under the influence, you could be charged with either:
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (with ordinary negligence), or
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (when you act with gross negligence)
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler punishable by up to one year in county jail (misdemeanor) and up to three years in state prison (felony).
Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony with a potential state prison term of ten years.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a more serious offense compared to vehicular manslaughter. Prosecutors will sometimes reduce the charge to that of vehicular manslaughter if the prosecution lacks sufficient proof of intoxication.
- DUI Murder
Repeat DUI offenders who have been given a Watson Advisement or have received DUI training for their previous offenses can be charged with second-degree murder. This is if he or she causes someone else's death while driving under the influence. DUI murder is punishable by a state prison sentence of between 15 years and life.
Find a Orange County Criminal Lawyer Near Me
If you are facing charges for vehicular manslaughter, contact the Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm for a consultation. With more than 20 years in the legal field, our attorneys have a deep understanding of the court system and the potential defenses that can work in your case. In addition to solid defense, you will remain up to date on the legal options you have throughout your case. The attorneys will also provide additional support after the conclusion of your criminal case. If you have questions about vehicular manslaughter, contact us today at 714-740-7848.