California laws are stringent on how motorists should conduct themselves on the road. Drivers need to be mindful of other road users so as not to cause accidents that could result in bodily injury or property damage. Driving recklessly or with negligence could also lead to the loss of life of a human being. If this happens, the negligent motorists can be charged and sentenced to vehicular manslaughter.
These are some of the cases we deal with at California Criminal Lawyer Group. However, because of the seriousness of this offense, it is possible to be charged with vehicular manslaughter when you are not the one who caused the accident. Get in touch with us if someone dies in an accident you are involved in, and you are facing charges. We are here to help anyone facing charges for vehicular manslaughter in San Jose, California, enjoy an easy process as well as protection of their rights.
Legal Explanation of California Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter, also called vehicular homicide, happens when a person other than the negligent or reckless driver loses their life in a car accident. The offense can result from either criminal negligence by a driver or recklessness (also called the murderous operation of a vehicle). If the driver was criminally negligent, they are likely to be charged with unintentional vehicular manslaughter. If, on the other hand, the driver was operating the vehicle recklessly, they will face charges for vehicular homicide. The victim of vehicular manslaughter could be anyone: It could be a passenger in the car the defendant was driving, a driver in a different car, or a pedestrian.
In the state of California, vehicular manslaughter laws are provided under Section 192(c) of the California Penal Code. According to this law, vehicular manslaughter happens when a person negligently causes the death of another while operating a vehicle through the commission of a California misdemeanor offense or a lawful act that could result in death. If, for instance, a motorist is using his/her mobile phone while driving, then they hit and killed a motorcyclist, they could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. A teenage boy who sped on a highway and crashed into an oncoming car, killing the driver, will face the same charges.
Unlike other manslaughter offenses in the state, for instance, involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, California vehicular manslaughter has to happen while the offender is operating a car. There are three primary laws against vehicular homicide in the state of California:
Vehicular Manslaughter through Gross Negligence
The law against California vehicular manslaughter through gross negligence is provided under Section 192(c) (1) of the California Penal Code. For a person to be found guilty of this offense, there are certain elements the prosecutor needs to prove before the court. These are the elements of this crime, and they are:
- That a motorist committed an infringement or a misdemeanor while driving, or any lawful act that could have resulted in the death of another
- That the act the driver committed was unsafe for human life in those circumstances
- That the driver behaved with gross negligence
- That the driver’s actions led to the loss of another person’s life
To explain the elements further, let us look at each of them separately:
An infraction, misdemeanor or a lawful action that could result in death
To be found guilty of these charges, the offender must have committed either of the following:
- A California offense that isn’t a felony
- A legal act but in a manner that resulted in the death
If a driver was using a cell phone while driving and not on hands-free, this is a traffic violation in the state of California. If he/she lost control of the car and crashed into an oncoming vehicle, killing the other driver or a passenger in the other vehicle, they will face charges for vehicular manslaughter.
The unlawful act the offender was committing must not be a felony because if it were a felony, then the offender will be charged with murder in California. It is a more severe offense.
Negligence is a crucial factor in the crime of California vehicular manslaughter. The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant behaved by gross negligence. If not, they may not be found guilty of the offense.
Gross negligence, in this case, is more than an average error, carelessness, or inattentiveness in judgment. It occurs when someone does the following:
- When they recklessly act in a manner that forms danger that could result in bodily injury or death of another person
- When a sensible person could have been aware that doing so would be risky to the life or general well being of the people around
A person is said to act with gross negligence if their behavior is different from that of an ordinary and careful person in a similar situation. The actions of a negligent person would indicate that he/she has total disregard for human safety, human life, and the results of his/her behavior.
Causing the demise of someone else
Again, the prosecutor must be able to prove that it is your actions that directly resulted in the loss of a person’s life for the court to find you guilty of California vehicular manslaughter. Death, in this case, should have been direct, natural, probable, and a result of your actions. What this means is that your actions are not something that a sensible person would do because they are sure about what would happen if they acted that way.
Note that vehicular manslaughter, as provided under Section 192(c) (1) of California laws, doesn’t have to be the sole reason another person lost their life. However, it must be the most substantial factor in causing it.
Example: A speeding driver weaves through traffic recklessly, and runs a red light. Unfortunately, he hits a pedestrian. The pedestrian does not die on the spot but is left damaged and on the road. A different vehicle comes up and runs the pedestrian over, killing him. The first driver will be found culpable of California vehicular manslaughter because it is their actions that led to the death of the pedestrian, even though not directly.
California Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter
The law against misdemeanor or ordinary vehicular manslaughter in the state of California is provided under Section 192(c)(2) of the state laws. As usual, there are some aspects of this offense, which could help us understand the crime better. These are the elements the prosecutor must prove before a court for the offender to be found guilty of the offense:
- While operating their vehicle, a driver committed a traffic infraction or a misdemeanor or a legal behavior in an illegal manner
- That act was risky to the life of a human being under those circumstances
- That the driver acted so with ordinary negligence
- That the driver’s actions directly resulted in the loss of life of a person
Ordinary/misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter only requires proof that a person was negligent and not with gross negligent. Ordinary negligence, in this case, means that the driver did not use reasonable caution to prevent a reasonably foreseeable danger to another person.
Example: If a driver makes a sudden turn without carefully looking in all directions to make sure that it is safe to do so, he may be ordinarily negligent. If a pedestrian was crossing the road at the same time as the driver, and the driver hits and kills her, the driver will be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. Not looking to ensure that it is safe to turn does not qualify to be gross negligence.
Vehicular Manslaughter intended for Financial Gain or Insurance Fraud vehicular Manslaughter
This is a unique form of California vehicular manslaughter that is provided under Section 192(c) (3) of the California Penal Code. This offense occurs under the following circumstances:
- When a driver is operating a vehicle, and they knowingly or intentionally participate or cause a collision
- When the driver acts so knowing so well that the crash is necessary to fabricate an insurance claim to gain financially from it. This is also called insurance fraud
- The driver does this intending to take advantage of the insurance provider or another person
- The intended collision results to the demise of someone else
If a driver deliberately wrecks their car intending to defraud their insurance provider, then they accidentally kill a person in the process, they will be charged with vehicular manslaughter for financial gain.
Penalties for California Vehicular Manslaughter
Considering that we have three offenses listed under Section 192(c) of the California Penal Code, the penalties for the crime of vehicular manslaughter will depend on the exact offense the person committed.
Penalties for vehicular manslaughter through gross negligence
In the state of California, the crime of vehicular manslaughter by gross negligence is a wobbler. It means that the offense can be convicted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The prosecutor's decision depends on:
- The conditions surrounding the case
- The defendant’s criminal record
If a person is convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, these are the penalties they are likely to get:
- Misdemeanor or summary probation
- Jail sentence of a maximum of one year
- Fines that could go up to $1000
If, on the other hand, a person is convicted of a felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, here are the penalties they are likely to get:
- Felony or formal probation
- Incarceration in a California prison for either two, four or six years
- Fines of not more than $10,000
Misdemeanor probation is a jail alternative for low-risk offenders, which enables them to serve most of all of their jail term under court supervision and not behind bars. Probation term, in this case, lasting between one and three years in the state of California. Sometimes it could go until five years. During the probation period, the court imposes certain conditions that the defendant must comply with. These are, for instance, the performance of community labor, getting permanent employment, and attending counseling. If he/she does not adhere to these conditions, the court may revoke the probation and send the offender to jail.
Felony probation, on the other hand, is a prison alternative for high-risk offenders, which allows them to serve part or their entire sentence under supervision in the community. Unlike misdemeanor probation, which is relatively shorter, felony probation lasts between three to five years. In addition to the conditions the court imposes on the probationer, he/she is required to report to a probation officer regularly. Depending on the outcome of the probation officer's report, the court may carry on or revoke the probation. If the probation is revoked, the offender will be sent straight to prison.
Penalties for misdemeanor/ordinary vehicular manslaughter
An ordinary case of vehicular manslaughter, as provided under Section 192(c) (2) of California laws, is punishable as follows:
- A summary or misdemeanor probation
- A jail sentence of not more than one year
- Fines of not more than $1000
Penalties for vehicular manslaughter intended for financial gain
Vehicular manslaughter intended for monetary gain is always convicted as a felony in the state of California. It means that this is the most severe form of vehicular manslaughter in the state. Possible penalties an offender can get once convicted are:
- Fines of not more than $10,000
- Incarceration for four, six or ten tears in a California state prison
Suspension of driver’s license
Suspension of one's license is one of the penalties that come with California vehicular manslaughter. Offenders who have been arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter by gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter intended for financial gain are likely to get a license revocation from DMV. When your license is revoked, it may not be possible to have it reinstated at least until after three years from the day of cancellation.
If the defendant drives after the revocation of their driver's license, he/she will face extra charges for operating a vehicle with a suspended permit. The law against this offense is provided under Section 14601 of California Vehicle Code. Penalties for driving with a suspended license may include time behind bars for a period of up to six months and a fine of not more than $1000.
Possible Defenses against California Vehicular Manslaughter
Accidents happen on the roads all the time for various reasons, and losing lives to a crash is going to bring forth severe charges to the responsible party. However, sometimes, the police arrest and charge people unfairly, especially with severe charges as vehicular manslaughter. If you have been caught up in such a situation and you are looking for a way to fight the charges, find yourself a reasonable criminal attorney. A competent attorney will be with you every step of the way. He/she will advise you, help you with the legal process, and plan a strong defense for your case. As a result, the court might drop the charges or reduce them to more lenient charges.
To avoid facing the harsh penalties of California vehicular manslaughter, your attorney will come up with a strong defense. It could convince the court that you are indeed not guilty of the charges you are facing. Fortunately, there are several defense strategies that your attorney can use to help your case. Some of these are:
That you didn’t act with ordinary/gross negligence
Negligence is the main factor in the crime of vehicular manslaughter. Ordinary negligence must be proven for the offender to be found guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. There is a need for proof of gross negligence for an offender to be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.
However, negligence is very tricky to be proven, especially when it comes to cases involving vehicular manslaughter. To prove that a person was negligent, the court needs to understand the standard behavior of a sound person and how the defendant's conduct differed from it.
Every driver makes quick decisions while on the road, and this is done every day for the safety of every road user. Sometimes a driver can make a wrong decision. However, it is hard to prove that the decision was so wrong to qualify to be negligent.
Your attorney can take advantage of this uncertainty to demonstrate to the court that you did not act with negligence or gross negligence. It will mean that you are not guilty of the charges you are facing. If the charges you are facing are for vehicular manslaughter by gross negligence, your attorney could argue that you were merely negligent and not grossly negligent. It could significantly reduce your penalties and could protect you from losing your driving privileges for three years.
That your actions did not cause the death of the other person
Other than proving that a person was negligent, establishing that a person’s negligence caused another person’s death is also quite challenging. Determining the cause and result of situations surrounding car accidents is not easy too. A person who drives a car negligently may not be guilty of vehicular manslaughter, even if they caused an accident where another person died. Sometimes the death of that other person resulted from their negligence or the negligence of another person.
For that reason, your attorney will investigate the cause of the accident to establish if, for sure, your actions are what led to the death of the person. He/she will challenge the account of the prosecutor about how the accident happened to prove that your actions are not what resulted in the death of the other person. Your attorney can also use expert witnesses to help reconstruct the accident scene to determine what happened on that fateful day.
If indeed the court agrees that your negligence is not what caused the accident, you will be exonerated of the vehicular manslaughter charges and charged with a less severe charge.
You were facing an unexpected emergency, and your actions were reasonable under the situation
Vehicular manslaughter law in California allows a person to act in a way they think is reasonable under the circumstances when they face an unexpected and sudden emergency. A person is allowed to use similar judgment and care of an ordinary person in a similar situation. If what you did was prompted by the emergency you were at, you will not be negligent or with gross negligence. You will, therefore, not be guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
A driver who veered into approaching traffic could argue that their action was because he was avoiding hitting a deed that was in his way. If, by turning into oncoming cars, the driver crashed into another car, killing his passenger or the other driver. His behavior will not be negligent and so, will not be guilty of vehicular manslaughter.
California Vehicular Manslaughter and Related Felonies
There are crimes in the state of California that could be charged alongside or in place of vehicular manslaughter. These are, for instance:
Vehicular manslaughter/gross vehicular manslaughter with intoxication
This offense is under Section 191.5 of the California Vehicle Code. This offense is separate and very distinct from the crime of vehicular manslaughter provided under Section 192(c). This section of the law applies when it is established that a person caused the demise of another while operating under the effects of alcohol or drugs.
Gross vehicular manslaughter with intoxication is the illegal killing of another person while driving under the influence and with gross negligence.
Section 191.5 of California Vehicle Code is a wobbler and is punishable by a maximum of one year in jail or sixteen months, two, or three years of prison term.
Find a San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm Near Me
Loss of life is devastating, especially if it happened in the same accident you were involved in. Facing charges for vehicular manslaughter afterward is more shattering. You need the best legal representation to ensure that you do not get the severest penalty associated with California vehicular manslaughter charges. At San Jose Criminal Attorney Law Firm, we have a strong criminal defense team in place to ensure that the rights of our clients are well-protected at all times. Call us at 408-622-0204 if you are charged in San Jose, and let us take charge of your defense.