Vehicular homicide or manslaughter is an example of criminal offenses that result in another person’s death without the suspect having the intention to cause death. This offense is severe, and other related crimes such as reckless driving and driving under the influence can be charged alongside vehicular manslaughter. Thus, you need legal representation to be able to navigate through the case effectively. Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm primarily serves clients in Vista, CA, and cities in North County, and we are ready to represent you if you are accused of vehicular manslaughter.
First, we will look at the following issues as addressed by our attorneys to help you understand vehicular manslaughter charges better.
Manslaughter vs. Vehicular Manslaughter
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being or unborn child without malice. “without malice” is the distinctive element that distinguishes crimes of murder from manslaughter. In murder cases, either first degree or second degree, the suspect must have had the aforethought intention to kill another person, and then, achieved his/her intent. In contrary, a manslaughter case means that the suspect did not have this aforethought intention.
Manslaughter can be narrowed down to a specific crime involving a vehicle or vehicles. This crime is known as Penal Code 192 (c) vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide. Drivers who cause accidents unintentionally, leading to the death of passengers or pedestrians find themselves charged with this crime.
California further classifies California Penal Code 192 (c) offense into three broad categories depending on the intention or elements surrounding the case:
- Vehicular homicide that involves gross negligence under section 1 of PEN 192 (c),
- Misdemeanor homicide under section 2 of PEN 192 (c), and
- Vehicular homicide for financial gain, section 3 of PEN 192 (c).
The punishments for vehicular manslaughter depends on the above categories as will be discussed later in this article. Note that there are other ways that a vehicular manslaughter crime is punished, for instance, depending on whether you were intoxicated or you were driving recklessly.
What Can Trigger Vehicular Manslaughter Charges?
Typical driving habits that attract vehicular manslaughter charges include:
- Driving while Intoxicated
Prosecutors can prove negligence by showing that you were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs during the occurrence of the accident. Intoxication will be proven by self-incriminating statements, eyewitness testimonies, and chemical evidence that include blood Alcohol Content results.
If your blood alcohol content is higher than 0.08 for adults and 0.01 for underage drivers, this would act as the evidence that you were driving under the influence of alcohol. In this case, you are not only charged with vehicular homicide but also DUI. This offense is known as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and vehicular manslaughter is often used as a plea bargain of this offense.
- Negligent Driving
Carelessness or ordinary negligence on your part will support vehicular manslaughter charges. Neglect is the lack of attention or care while driving such as taking your eyes off the wheel to do something else.
Sometimes, though, the type of driving that supports vehicular manslaughter charges must be more than simple negligence such as failure to heed to flashing lights and driving on the wrong lane.
- Driving while Sleepy
Most traffic accidents occur as a result of drivers falling asleep on the wheel. When someone dies as a result of such behavior, the main focus will be whether you were driving recklessly or the accident was as a result of you sleeping while driving.
Vehicular manslaughter charges will be appropriate if there is proof that your lack of sleep for long hours and an attempt to drive placed your life and other road users in danger.
- Vehicular Homicide as a Result of Road Safety Rules Violation
Vehicular manslaughter charges are applicable when accidents occur as a result of the driver’s failure to follow safety rules. For instance, windshields should be clear to avoid poor vision that can cause an accident. Other actions that can lead to accidents are driving over the accepted speed limit at a particular area and overtaking another vehicle where there is a clear sign forbidding drivers from passing other vehicles.
- Vehicular Homicide with Consciousness
Vehicular manslaughter can be classified as murder if you knowingly endangered the life and caused death with conscious disregard of the risk your acts would cause. California treats this differently from gross negligence.
- Vehicular Manslaughter with the Intention of Committing Fraud
Also known as a vehicular homicide for financial gain, this is where a motorist intentionally contributes to an accident to collect the insurance gains.
Penalties for Vehicular Homicide
The legal consequences of a driving-related death depend on the circumstances in which the incident occurred. Possible penalties for different scenarios include:
- Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter
Misdemeanor vehicular homicide is the ordinary vehicular homicide, and it carries a possible sentence of one year in jail and a fine of up to $1000. The judge may also decide to put you on probation for not less than three years.
- Gross Vehicular Manslaughter
Gross vehicular homicide can either appear as a misdemeanor or a felony. If treated as a misdemeanor, it attracts a jail sentence of one year and a fine not exceeding $1000. On the other hand, if the court decides that it was a felony, then you can face a prison sentence of two, four, or six years. Alternatively, you may be placed on probation not exceeding five years.
- Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain
Vehicular homicide with the intention of committing insurance fraud is always treated as a felony. If you face these kinds of charges, you will have to pay a fine of $10,000 and may spend up to 10 years in prison.
- Negligence Vehicular Manslaughter as a Result of DUI
Negligence vehicular homicide as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol can either be a misdemeanor or a felony. For a misdemeanor, you may have to pay a maximum fine of $1000 and spend one year in jail. As a felony, you may spend 16 months and a maximum of four years in prison.
When you face an accusation for committing vehicular manslaughter with prior knowledge of the risks you are posing to the victim, the charge gets equated to second-degree murder, and you are likely to spend up to 15 years in prison.
- Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while intoxicated
This is viewed as a felony which can attract a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. However, if you have a record of conviction with vehicular manslaughter or driving under the influence of drugs, your sentence will increase to 15 years.
Other than serving jail time and paying fines, a charge of vehicular manslaughter as a result of driving under the influence of drugs, gross negligence, or for financial gain can lead to revocation of your driver’s license.
Your license will not be reinstated until the end of three years from the date of revocation. Under the vehicle code 14601 VC, driving during this period will cause you additional charges of driving on a suspended driver’s license.
What are the Long Term Consequences of Vehicular Manslaughter?
Other than the above penalties, vehicular homicide can have negative long term consequences in your professional and social life as discussed below.
Overlap with other related suits
A criminal plea in this case only solves the matter at hand, but the civil suit will not get erased. Once you plead guilty in a criminal case, it can be used against you in the future regardless of your sentence completion. The judge can award compensation regarding payment of medical bills for the affected family and car repair, but the emotional suffering will remain.
Moreover, if your reckless driving led to the death of a parent or parents of a minor, the court would require you to pay child support for the minor until he/she attains the age of 18 years. These child support payments will not get settled by your insurance.
The nature of your plea in vehicular manslaughter charges is a significant determinant of the assistance you will get from your insurance company. If there is proof that you committed this crime as a result of negligence and recklessness, the insurance company will not be required to provide their services to you.
Difficulties in obtaining a job
Like any other criminal offense, vehicular manslaughter appears on your background checks performed by employers when you are applying for a particular position. A criminal record may hinder your chances of getting decent employment or entry into institutions of higher learning.
Additionally, if you face vehicular manslaughter as a result of underage DUI, your chances of getting college scholarships may be meager despite having good grades.
Difficulty when interacting with other people
Felony convictions will appear in residential background checks; hence, it will be difficult to find proper housing. In addition to this, you are unable to practice careers such as law or teaching. Whether the crime was committed recklessly or not, once you get punished for vehicular manslaughter, people are likely to perceive you as a murderer; and you will not find it easy to interact with other people socially, especially if you have spent a significant amount of time in prison.
Moreover, most people have the fear of being associated with ex-convicts; hence, a prior conviction for vehicular manslaughter can lead to broken relationships. This may significantly affect your self-esteem.
Vehicular homicide as a result of DUI can also attract a suspension of your driving license for up to 3 years. This offense can increase the amount of money your insurance coverage provider expects you to pay for your car. In turn, you may have more financial burdens on you.
Can a Non-driver Get Charged with Vehicular Manslaughter?
If an accident is as a result of a collision of two cars, it is common for both drivers to share the responsibility for the crime. The court uses the theory of contributory negligence to sort out the civil context of the case to determine who will pay for the damages associated with the accident.
However, the contributory negligence theory cannot apply for instances of Vehicular Homicide. Here, the judge will determine who to charge according to the evidence presented.
In some cases, the prosecutor may charge you with vehicular manslaughter even if it is not evident that you drove a vehicle. This occurs if you are the pedestrian and you violate road safety rules, hence, causing an accident that leads to death. This is charged as second-degree vehicular manslaughter. However, violation of the law must be the primary cause of death for you to face this charge if you were not driving.
For charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, your penalties are likely to be lighter depending on the strength of your defense. Your defense attorney can help you to prove that there is not enough evidence to convict you of this offense, and instead, you settle for just violating traffic rules that carries a fine of $200.
How Can I Fight PC 192(c) Vehicular Manslaughter Charges?
When people drive cars and operate on busy highways, accidents may happen. Sometimes police and prosecutors respond to such unfortunate tragedies by pressing charges of vehicular homicide even when the acts are justified.
If you happen to get caught up in such a mess, there are some legal defenses your legal representative can use to fight the PC 192(c) charges or get the penalties reduced. Common defense strategies for a vehicular manslaughter case include.
You Did Not Act with Negligence
Negligence can be quite challenging to prove in vehicular homicide cases since its definition is not clear. Driving requires some quick decisions to be made. However, it can be hard to argue that these decisions were out of negligence even if they turned out to be fatal.
If you are charged with vehicular manslaughter, your lawyer can be able to show that the behavior was not negligent successfully. By disapproving negligence, there is potential to reduce your penalties and save you from a driver’s license revocation.
Your Negligence Was not the Cause of Death
Sorting out the different causes and effects of one's actions during a motor vehicle accident is difficult. Even if you were driving negligently, and as a result, someone died, the prosecutor may be unable to show that the death(s) was a result of your negligence.
An experienced defense lawyer will help you to argue that it was the victim’s negligence that caused the accident, and hence, you may be acquitted of the vehicular manslaughter charges.
You Were Faced with an Emergency and Acted According to the Circumstances
According to California’s vehicular manslaughter law, if the driver is faced with an emergency, they should use the same judgment that an ordinary person would use and act according to the situation. If that was the case, then it was not an act of negligence.
You can argue that your actions were meant to save your life or other people’s lives, for example, there was a sudden obstruction resulting from another accident.
Sometimes prosecutors may exaggerate vehicular homicide and charge them as second-degree murder. Murder charges are more severe than mere negligence when driving and require a more stable mental state.
If you are charged with second-degree murder, the prosecutor will be required to show evidence of your reckless disregard for human life, or you had the intent to kill. Your lawyer may argue based on “missing intent” to dismiss the charges.
Challenging Blood Test Results
In most vehicular manslaughter instances, there is no time to conduct field sobriety tests to show that the defendant was driving under the influence of drugs. Blood tests may be the only way to prove that the vehicular manslaughter was as a result of DUI.
Your defense lawyer may try to get the results of the blood test excluded from the evidence based on a procedural error and violation of your rights during the tests. If repetition of the blood test is not possible, the lawyer may find other means to suppress blood test evidence by disputing its accuracy.
Your Intoxication was Not the Legal Cause of the Accident
You may argue that your intoxication was not the leading cause of the accident. Instead, other factors outside your control were the sole cause of the crash.
You may also present evidence that your intoxication was not as a result of alcohol but due to preexisting medical conditions like diabetes. This evidence could probably undermine the prosecutor’s claim that you were driving under the influence of drugs. Consequently, a severe charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated may be reduced to ordinary manslaughter by using this defense strategy.
DUI Lawyer Near Me
The consequences of a vehicular manslaughter conviction cannot be overemphasized, especially if the underlying cause of the accident is intoxication. In the latter case, a DUI lawyer may help you to get vehicular manslaughter charge as a plea bargain, or even get an acquittal for your charges. If you are in San Diego or the entire North County cities, we invite you to contact Vista DUI Attorney Law Firm if you are facing vehicular manslaughter or any DUI charges. Contact our Vista DUI Attorney for a free case evaluation. Call 760-691-1540.