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Vehicular Manslaughter

If your DUI incident ended with the tragedy of someone dying, there are various charges that can be brought against you. Depending on the specific facts and evidence of your case, there is a chance that you were charged with a regular DUI. On the other hand, when a death occurs from a DUI accident, it is common for the driver who was under the influence to be charged with a Second Degree “Watson” murder, commonly known as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

We know that a DUI accident can be an overly stressful incident. That feeling can be amplified when there is a death added to the incident. The punishments will be more severe and can have a longer lasting impact on your personal and professional life. If you have recently been in a DUI accident, we strongly advise that you consult with an attorney as soon as possible. The information in this article is to provide you with information that will help you understand what you may be facing if you were charged with vehicular manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The article will also provide some information on the more serious charge of a Watson Murder.

If you read this article and believe that we can be of some assistance to you, call the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm to set up your FREE consultation. Vincent Ross, our Chief Trial Attorney, has more than 29 years of criminal defense work, and has handled over 11,000 cases. The experienced attorneys at our firm know how to best help you in this stressful time, and will devote the utmost care to your case.

Call the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm at 949-377-2280 to schedule your FREE consultation today.

California Penal Code – Vehicular Manslaughter

California Penal Code 192 includes and defines various types of Vehicular Manslaughter (VM).

Penal Code 192(c)(1) – Vehicular manslaughter with Gross Negligence

The prosecution needs to prove the following for an individual to be found guilty of VM with gross negligence:

  1. That you committed a violation, misdemeanor, or legal act while operating a motor vehicle that could cause death;
  2. Given the specific conditions of the accident, the act was hazardous to human life;
  3. You acted with gross negligence; and
  4. Your negligent actions caused another person’s death.

As described above, to be convicted of this crime, you are required to commit an infraction, misdemeanor, or legal act that could cause another’s death. Such as, if a person loses control of the vehicle because they were on the phone and an accident ensues that causes another driver’s death; they can be charged with VM with gross negligence. Remember, you may be charged with a more severe charge if the underlying crime you commit is a felony.

Moreover, a person needs to act “with gross negligence.” In order to show this, the prosecutor must prove your negligence went beyond “ordinary negligence.”  A grossly negligent act is defined as creating a high possibility of severe bodily injury or death. Also, for it to be a grossly negligent act, a reasonable person would know that a high possibility of severe bodily injury or death. An example of gross negligence is when a person attempts to pass a car by driving in the oncoming traffic lane without being able to see and then hits another car head on.

Finally, VM with gross negligence requires that your negligent act caused the death of another individual. The death needs to be a likely, natural, and direct outcome of your actions. A question to determine if your actions were grossly negligent would be, whether a reasonable person would believe that someone was likely to die from the act?

Penal Code 192(c)(2) – Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

A misdemeanor VM does not require a grossly negligent act by the driver. To be found guilty of misdemeanor VM, the following need to be present:

  1. That you committed a violation, misdemeanor, or legal act while operating a motor vehicle that could cause death;
  2. Given the specific conditions of the accident, the act was hazardous to human life;
  3. You acted with “ordinary negligence;” and
  4. Your negligent actions caused another person’s death.

The only difference between a VM with gross negligence and misdemeanor VM is the level of negligence exhibited by the driver. Ordinary negligence only requires a person to fail to act reasonably, or as a reasonable person would. Something such as, driving at an excessive speed in a school zone can be considered as ordinary negligence.

Penal Code 192(c)(3) – Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

This is not a common form of VM. This charge’s elements are:

  1. That you willfully engage in, or cause, an accident while operating a motor vehicle;
  2. You cause that accident with the intent to falsely report an insurance claim to defraud the insurance company; and
  3. The death was caused by the accident.

This is a very particular crime, and the prosecution must be able to prove the driver’s intent when the accident occurred. Basically, this crime can be described as a plan to cause an accident, in order to commit insurance fraud that results in another person’s death.

Punishments for Penal Code 192(c) – Vehicular Manslaughter

Like other crimes, the punishments following a VM conviction are dependent on the circumstances of the specific case. Also, the punishments depend on what subsection of Penal Code 192(c) you are convicted of violating.

Punishments for Penal Code 192(c)(1) – Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence

Like most of the other crimes mentioned on our website, VM with gross negligence can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor. The charge’s classification depends on the driver’s prior criminal history and the circumstances of the case.

If you are charged with Misdemeanor VM with gross negligence, you may face the following punishments:

  • A fine up to $1,000;
  • Summary probation for some period of time; and/ or
  • A sentence of up to 1 year in county jail.

If you are charged with Felony VM with gross negligence, you may face the following punishments:

  • A fine up to $10,000;
  • Formal probation for some period of time; and/ or
  • A sentence of up to 6 years in state prison.

Punishments for Penal Code 192(c)(2) – Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

The punishments for this crime are very similar to a misdemeanor offense of VM with gross negligence:

  • A fine up to $1,000;
  • Summary probation for some period of time; and/or
  • A sentence of up to 1 year in county jail.

Punishments for Penal Code 192(c)(3) – Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

This crime is always charged as a felony and carries more serious punishments:

  • A fine up to $10,000;
  • A sentence of up to 10 years in county jail.

Driver’s License Suspension Following a Vehicular Manslaughter Conviction

Being convicted of a VM for financial gain charge, or VM with gross negligence can result in the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspending your license. The DMV will suspend your license for at least 3 years.

Defenses for a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge

If you have been charged for any subsection of Penal Code 192(c), we recommend that you meet with an attorney immediately. There are various defenses that can be asserted against a vehicular manslaughter charge. Some of these arguments may reduce the charges you are facing, and/or even dismiss them. Some of the defenses typically argued are:

Insufficiency of Causation

As stated above, all VM cases require that the death resulting from the accident be caused by the driver’s negligence. The presence of a death does not mean that you caused it. The death could have been caused by the negligence of the victim or by the negligence of a third party. Our defense team can hire an accident expert that will reenact the accident in order to determine who was at fault for the accident and subsequent death. Most times, if an accident occurs and a driver was intoxicated, the police will prematurely assume that it was the intoxicated driver’s fault an accident and the death occurred. A private accident expert gives our defense team the ability to more accurately depict who caused the accident.

Insufficiency of Negligence

Unfortunately, sometimes, nothing can be done to avoid a fatal accident from occurring. There is a possibility that you were driving like any reasonably prudent driver would in your situation, and the accident would still have occurred. In those cases, a VM conviction is not proper. Such as, if a driver swerved to avoid hitting a biker, but collided with another vehicle, the driver swerving could be seen as an act that a reasonably prudent driver would have done, even if, the driver caused an accident.

Likewise, if you have been charged with VM with gross negligence, an experienced defense attorney may be able to get your charge dropped to a regular VM. The difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence can be a small one, and may be hard to differentiate the two types of negligence. Having an experienced attorney to handle these arguments can pay off in the end if you take the difference of severity of the possible punishments of both charges into account.

Penal Code 191.5 – Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

If your accident occurred while you were operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you have most likely been charged with a more serious crime of VM while intoxicated.

Thus, VM while intoxicated requires the prosecution to show the following additional elements were present in order to prove you were under the influence:

  1. Ingestion of alcohol caused the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle to be diminished.
  2. The driver had a BAC higher than .08%; or
  3. Drug use caused the driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle to be diminished.

VM while intoxicated, like regular VM, can be charged against the driver for exhibiting negligence or gross negligence.

VM while intoxicated involving regular negligence can carry a punishment of up to 1 year in a county jail, or a maximum of 3 years in a state prison.

If VM while intoxicated involves gross negligence, it will be brought as a felony charge. If you are convicted of VM while intoxicated involving gross negligence, you can face up to 10 years in a state prison.

Remember, a person cannot be convicted of both VM and VM while intoxicated. VM and VM while intoxicated are the same crime, but different degrees of the same crime.

Penal Code 187 – Related Crime of DUI Murder or “Watson Murder”

A DUI murder charge is more severe than a VM while intoxicated charge. DUI murder, or “Watson Murder,” is the equivalent of a second-degree murder charge. A Watson Murder charge can be brought against you if the following apply to your case:

  1. You were driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs;
  2. You caused another person’s death;
  3. You have been previously convicted of DUI; and
  4. You knew the risks that could happen if you drove under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.

Usually, the evidence used to prove the fourth element is a “Watson Advertisement.” A Watson Advertisement is given to an individual who has previously been convicted of a DUI. Essentially, the advertisement makes a person aware about the dangers of driving under the influence, and that by doing so again, it can result in a murder charge.

The defense team at the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm has the experience to help navigate you through the process and defend your Vehicular Manslaughter charge. Call us today to schedule your FREE DUI Consultation.

Our defense lawyers know the law and have the skill to get you the best possible outcome for your case. During your FREE consultation, one of our attorneys will be able to discuss what the best options for your defense strategy are. We will explain what the process will entail as we go forward with your case.

As you can tell after reading this article, a vehicular manslaughter charge can carry many serious punishments. You will want a dedicated and experienced defense attorney at your side to ensure that your rights are defended well. Various arguments can be made against a vehicular manslaughter charge and we will devote ourselves to looking for any inconsistencies in the evidence against you, to make sure we can argue to get you the best possible result. We will challenge any evidence stating that you were driving negligently, or grossly negligently, and/or that you caused the subsequent death. We promise to stand at your side throughout the entire process of your case and deliver an aggressive defense strategy to increase your chances of getting the charges reduced and possibly dismissed entirely. Given the severity of the charges you may be facing, we recommend that you contact our office, where we will discuss your options at an initial consultation at no expense to you.

Contact the Orange County DUI Attorney Law Firm today at 949-377-2280 to schedule your FREE Consultation.

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