Vehicular Manslaughter: Penal Code § 192(c)

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California defines vehicular manslaughter as causing the death of another person by negligently driving a vehicle.[1]

You can be charged with vehicular homicide if you have been accused of:

  • Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act which is not a felony, and with gross negligence,
  • Driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence,
  • Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence,
  • Driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence, or
  • Driving a vehicle and the collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person

If you have been charged with vehicular manslaughter, you likely are feeling guilt and grief. You may even want to enter a plea of guilty because you feel guilty. However, just because you have been charged does not mean you are legally at fault for the person’s death.

You should contact an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney from Moaddel Law Firm to determine whether you are legally responsible for the death. You may not have been driving in a negligent manner, you may not have caused the victim’s death, or there may be a reasonable explanation for your driving.  No matter what you are accused of, our firm can push back to protect your rights.

Types of Vehicular Manslaughter: Penal Code § 192

Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence

To be guilty of vehicular manslaughter—gross negligence under Penal Code § 192(c)(1), the prosecutor must prove you committed a misdemeanor, infraction, or lawful act in a manner that might produce death while driving; the act was dangerous to human life; the act was committed with gross negligence; and a person died as a result.[2]

Gross negligence is a higher standard than ordinary negligence.   It involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgement. The law defines gross negligence as “acting in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury” when “a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.”[3]

To cause the death of another person, the death must be the direct, natural, and probable consequence of your action.[4] A consequence is natural and probable if a reasonable person would know it is likely to happen. If the death would have occurred without your action, you are not legally responsible. However, your action does not need to be the only cause of death; it must be a “substantial factor.”

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

When your conduct doesn’t rise to the level of gross negligence, you can be charged with misdemeanor (or ordinary) vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code § 192(c)(2). As with gross negligence, the prosecutor must prove you committed a misdemeanor, infraction, or lawful act in a manner that might produce death while driving; the act was dangerous to human life; and a person died as a result.[5] However, for ordinary vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor must only prove that you committed the act with ordinary negligence.[6]

Ordinary negligence is simply “the failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to oneself or someone else.”[7] You are negligent if you do something a reasonably careful person would not do in that situation, or if you fail to do something a reasonably careful person would do.

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

Generally, vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is the crime of accidentally killing a person while deliberately wrecking a vehicle in order to make a false insurance claim.[8] The prosecutor must prove that you knowingly caused or participated in a collision while driving a vehicle; you knew the purpose of the collision was to make a false insurance claim for financial gain; you had the intent to defraud the insurance company or another party; and the collision caused a death.

Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties in California

Vehicular manslaughter as a result of ordinary negligence is a misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

However, vehicular manslaughter as a result of gross negligence is a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.[9] The prosecutor will look at the circumstances of the offense and your criminal history, if any, to determine whether to charge you with a misdemeanor or felony. If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in jail. If charged as a felony, the maximum sentence is six years in state prison.

You will also face a fine. For misdemeanors, the fine can be up to $1,000. For felonies, the fine can be up to $10,000.[10]

Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is always a felony. If convicted, you could face four, six, or ten years in state prison and a fine of up to $10,000.[11]

Let Moaddel Law Firm Protect Your Driver’s License–Vehicle Code § 13351

The DMV is required to revoke your driver’s license for three years if you are convicted of gross negligence vehicular manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter for financial gain.

Related Offenses

Penal Code § 191.5(a): gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

Penal Code § 191.5(b): vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated

Driving while “intoxicated” means driving while either “under the influence” under Vehicle Code § 23152(a), with a blood alcohol content (“BAC”) of 0.08% or higher (or 0.05% or higher if under 21 years old), or “under the influence of drugs” as defined under Vehicle Code § 23152(e).[12]

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence is a wobbler, punished by either up to one year in county jail, or 16 months, two years, or three years in state prison.[13]

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence is a felony, and is punishable by four, six, or ten years in state prison.

Vehicular manslaughter is a “lesser included offense” of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. That means, if the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were intoxicated, but can prove that you committed a misdemeanor, infraction, or lawful act in a manner that might produce death while driving; the act was dangerous to human life; the act was committed with gross or ordinary negligence; and a person died as a result (i.e. the elements of vehicular manslaughter)—you can be convicted of vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code § 192(c) instead.

DUI Murder–Penal Code § 187

The most serious cases of deaths caused while driving under the influence are not prosecuted as vehicular manslaughter; they are charged as murder. If you have previously been convicted of a DUI offense and have been educated about the dangers of driving under the influence (usually by a “Watson advisement” given by the court during the previous DUI case), you can be charged with DUI murder under Penal Code § 187.[14]

While you may be overwhelmed with the seriousness of your accusations, you still have legal rights.  Call a Los Angeles vehicular manslaughter attorney from Moaddel Law Firm to defend those rights.  We take your case seriously and will work towards obtaining the best result possible.

Begin your legal defense today by calling us at (877) 375-8188 today!

[1] This does not include committing an act that is a felony. In that case, you would be charged with murder, in violation of Penal Code § 187, under the felony-murder rule.

[2] Penal Code § 192(c)(1).

[3] CALCRIM 592.

[4] CALCRIM 592.

[5] Penal Code § 192(c)(2).

[6] Penal Code § 192(c)(2).

[7] CALCRIM 593.

[8] Penal Code § 192(c)(3).

[9] Penal Code § 193.

[10] Penal Code § 193.

[11] Penal Code § 193.

[12] Penal Code § 191.5.

[13] Penal Code § 191.5(b).

[14] See People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290.