If you are facing the charge of vehicular manslaughter DUI in Los Angeles or anywhere in California, you should waste no time in availing yourself of a skilled, experienced DUI defense attorney. The charge being filed against you carries extremely harsh sentencing elements upon a conviction, and there is too much at stake to trust any but the very best DUI law firm available.

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have deep experience in defending against the charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. We know how to use our intimate knowledge of the California Penal Code and Vehicle Code, along with our great familiarity with local L.A. court processes, to win you the best possible outcome to your case.

To learn more or for a free consultation, contact us anytime 24/7 at 310-848-1376.

How Is "Vehicular Manslaughter" Defined in California?

California Penal Code Section 191.5b criminalizes "vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated," while PC Section 191.5a covers "gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated." These closely related crimes can also be referred to as "simple vehicular manslaughter DUI," "gross vehicular manslaughter DUI," or as a general term referring to either offense, "vehicular manslaughter DUI."

In all cases, vehicular manslaughter DUI involves a driver operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or an intoxicating drug, getting into an accident while DUI, and due to some degree of negligence on the part of the DUI driver causing the death of an innocent party.

However, the difference between gross and simple vehicular manslaughter DUI is that gross negligence is involved in the former, whereas, only "ordinary" negligence is involved in the latter.

"Ordinary" negligence occurs whenever you do not exercise the degree of caution that a reasonable person would ordinarily be expected to exercise. "Gross" negligence is a degree of negligence that amounts to reckless indifference for the safety of others around you.

As simple vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (PC 191.5b) carries a lighter sentence than its gross negligence equivalent (PC 191.5a), many good defense attorneys work to get a plea that reduces the charge in this manner. Another strategy is to work for a charge reduction to PC 191.5c, which is gross vehicular manslaughter but without intoxication (if the evidence of intoxication during the incident is weak).

Possible Punishments

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of each case. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail. As a felony, it can be punished by up to 4 years in state prison and loss of your driver's license for a year

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony charge, punishable by:

  • From 4 to 10 years in state prison.
  • Formal probation.
  • The suspension of your California driver's license for a minimum of 3 years.
  • A maximum fine of $10,000.

Also note that a repeat offense of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can result in a prison term of 15 years to life. Priors for the purposes of determining a "repeat offense" include not only the exact same offense but also other forms of vehicular manslaughter, whether gross or ordinary, whether with or without intoxication. An ordinary DUI or a DUI with injury can also count as a prior.

Gross vehicular manslaughter without intoxication can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor. As a felony, it is punishable by up to 6 years in state prison. As a misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in county jail and the suspension of your driver's license.

In very extreme cases, a DUI causing the death of another can be charged as murder. If the defendant already has a previous DUI on his or her record and has already taken a state-approved DUI class and/or been issued the "Watson Warning" that driving under the influence puts others in extreme danger of death and that a repeat DUI could be charged as murder, a DUI causing death can be charged as second-degree murder. This is called either DUI homicide or "Watson Murder," and is punishable under PC 187 by 15 years to life imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

Clearly, the punishments for all of the specific crimes listed above are very severe, and a conviction must be avoided at all costs. If that cannot be done, then a charge and/or sentence reduction should be negotiated. Only by relying on a skilled DUI defense lawyer do you stand a good chance of winning the best outcome possible to your case.

What Must the Prosecution Prove?

In order to prove you guilty of vehicular manslaughter DUI, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • You committed DUI. This involves proving you operated a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol content of .08% or higher, .04% for commercial drivers, or .01% for underage drinkers. If your BAC was below these levels but your driving ability was nevertheless impaired by alcohol or an intoxicating drug, you can still be convicted of DUI.
  • You acted with negligence during a DUI-related accident in which another person was killed. The negligence must be shown to amount to reckless indifference for a conviction on gross vehicular manslaughter DUI, but even ordinary negligence will suffice for simple vehicular manslaughter DUI.
  • Your act of negligence caused the death of the other person. It is not automatic that the cause of death was due to DUI or negligence of another simply because those factors were involved in the accident. The prosecutor must painstakingly established this cause-effect connection.

Note that, while even an otherwise legal act, if it constitutes a negligent act, can contribute to your being convicted of vehicular manslaughter DUI, oftentimes, it will be an illegal act (such as a traffic violation) that is involved.

Another important point to keep in mind is that the prosecutor cannot argue simply that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs was the negligent act that caused the death of the other person. He must show that there was at least one other negligent act that led to the fatality. The act can be a misdemeanor crime, a mere infraction, or a legal act that was dangerous under the circumstances.

Proving Gross negligence

Because of the harsher sentencing that adheres to a conviction on gross vehicular manslaughter DUI versus ordinary vehicular manslaughter DUI, it is worth delving more deeply into what the prosecutor must prove to establish "gross negligence" took place.

First, gross negligence implies that the defendant acted in a manner that put others at extreme risk of death or of great bodily harm. Second, it must be an act that the defendant knew or should have known would put others at such risk.

Thus, gross negligence cannot consist of an act that no one would have thought would likely result in the death of another, but in fact, did. The DUI driver must have committed an act that was likely to cause a death, while knowing it was likely to do that, and yet, went ahead and willfully did it anyway. There must have been more than an ordinary laxness or carelessness. There must have been wanton disregard for human life.

And again, even if a grossly negligent act and DUI and an accident with a fatality are all established, that is not enough. The prosecutor must go on to show that the death occurred as a "direct, natural, and probable" result of the act of gross negligence. It is not true that the negligence in view must be the sole cause of death involved, but it must be shown to be among the causes and to be a "substantial" cause.

Common Defense Strategies

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we have handled numerous cases of vehicular manslaughter DUI and related offenses successfully in the past, and we have the tools and experience to do the same for you. We always tailor-make each defense based on the specific facts of the case at hand, but here are some of the most common defense strategies we have used over the years in winning vehicular manslaughter DUI cases:

  1. The defendant did not drive DUI during the accident: All of the ordinary defenses we use against any DUI charge can be applied here as well. If you were not under the influence, it is not vehicular manslaughter DUI. At worst, it would be vehicular manslaughter without intoxication. We have long experience at unraveling and undermining the evidence of prosecutors for DUI. Excessive tiredness or nervousness could have caused a failure of field sobriety tests, for example. Breathalyzer tests can be thrown off by mouth alcohol. Blood tests can be inaccurate due to a still-rising BAC or a misadministered test. And there are instances in which unlawful traffic stops, arrests, or searches and seizures by police can get a case dismissed.

  2. There was no negligent act: It may be that, though a DUI occurred, there was no other negligent act that led to the accident or death that the defendant committed. It is not enough simply to show that you were DUI. Something else must be cited as an act of negligence as well.

  3. There was no grossly negligent act: If the act of negligence did not amount to a disregard for human life or "reckless indifference" to the safety of others, you can at least escape a gross vehicular manslaughter DUI conviction and get a lesser sentence under an ordinary vehicular manslaughter DUI charge.

  4. Negligence did not cause the victim's death: If the connection between the death of the victim and the negligent act of the defendant is disproved or, at least, cannot be proved by the prosecutor beyond reasonable doubt, no vehicular manslaughter conviction can be gained. At most, a DUI conviction will occur. There are many other possible causes of the accident and/or fatality. It could have been the weather conditions, a poorly lit or poorly designed highway, a defectively manufactured or ill maintained auto part, or even the negligence of the drive of the other vehicle. In fact, there could even have been a third driver involved who caused the accident. This is why careful accident reconstruction is a huge part of legal defense in these types of cases.

  5. An emergency situation affected the defendant's actions: The defendant is only required to have acted in a way that a reasonable person would act under similar or the same circumstances. In emergencies, one may reasonably drive over the speed limit, perhaps even run certain stop signs or red lights, and violate other traffic laws. If it can be shown that the defendant's actions, even if not what one ought ordinarily do while driving, were within the pale of reasonable emergency measures, then the case can likely be won.

Contact Us Today for Help

At Los Angeles DUI Lawyer, we stand ready to come to your aid in your hour of need with high caliber DUI defense and an undying commitment to securing the best possible outcome for each and every one of our clients. 

We always work first and foremost for a dismissal or acquittal, but when that is unfeasible, we know how to skillfully negotiate in order to get your charge or sentence reduced.

To learn more or for a free legal consultation, do not hesitate to contact us 24/7/365 by calling 310-848-1376.