What Constitutes Vehicular Manslaughter in California?

Vehicular manslaughter in California is defined as a driver negligently operating a vehicle and causing another person’s death. The two types of vehicular manslaughter in California are ordinary and gross vehicular manslaughter.

Defending yourself against a serious crime like vehicular manslaughter in California requires an experienced defense attorney.

A skilled defense attorney can protect your rights and provide legal support after such a life-changing event.

Mariya Melkonyan has extensive experience in criminal law, enabling her to navigate your case through the legal process successfully. Her record of winning favorable verdicts for felony cases demonstrates her passion for fighting for her clients’ rights and getting them fair treatment in the justice system.

Ordinary vehicular manslaughter happens when a driver’s failure to follow traffic laws results in the death of another person, for example, texting while driving and getting into a deadly collision.

Gross vehicular manslaughter refers to actions that show malicious intent or indifference to human life, such as:

  • Excessive speeding combined with reckless driving
  • Intoxicated driving
  • Crossing a red light at high speeds
  • Refusing to stop at a stop sign when speeding
  • Racing at high speeds on public roads

Penal Code PC 192(c) also includes driving unlawfully for financial gain as vehicular manslaughter. For instance, fraudulently causing a car accident which results in financial gain, such as an insurance claim, falls under this category.

What Are the Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter?

In California, you can face charges for vehicular manslaughter for gross or ordinary negligence. If your actions were grossly negligent, you could face a felony conviction resulting in a jail term of up to one year in county jail or 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison.

In the case of ordinary negligence, a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter conviction carries a prison term of one year in county jail. However, driving a vehicle for financial gain can lead to state imprisonment for 4, 6, or 10 years.

Although the courts can fine different amounts, most misdemeanor charges result in a fine of up to $1,000. Felony vehicular manslaughter charges can carry up to a $10,000 fine.

What is the California Law Regarding Vehicular Manslaughter?

The legal definition of vehicular manslaughter under California law is composed of three provisions regarding negligence and financial gain. These include vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence, gross negligence, and vehicular manslaughter for financial gain.

Ordinary Negligence
This offense includes the following elements:

  • You commit a misdemeanor or an infraction while driving or an unlawful act while driving
  • You acted in ordinary negligence and caused a death

A failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm to another is considered ordinary negligence. Under PC 192(c) law in California, driving carelessly, inattentively, or making a mistake in judgment are classified as ordinary negligence. For example, running a red light and causing a death because a driver is texting might be considered ordinary negligence.

Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence
Driving with gross negligence is a crime punishable by prison time. The prosecution must prove these elements to convict you of this charge:

  • You operated your vehicle and committed a misdemeanor, traffic violation, or another unlawful act
  • Your conduct was grossly negligence and resulted in a death

Gross negligence means more than being careless or unthinking. A driver acts with gross negligence when their behavior shows recklessness or intentional harm, increasing the chance of death or significant bodily injury.

Under the PC 192(c) California law, gross negligence is the direct, probable, and natural cause of a fatality. However, to face gross vehicular manslaughter charges, neglectful actions like drunk driving do not have to be the only cause of the victim’s death. It can be a substantial factor in causing their death in the accident, meaning it was more than a trivial or a distant element.

For example, a drunk driver might speed and slam into another car. The victim sustains blunt force injuries from the accident, partially due to their airbag not opening. In this case, the intoxicated driver might still be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter for their actions.

Financial Gain in Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain occurs under these circumstances:

  • You deliberately caused the car accident
  • The purpose of the accident was to submit a false insurance claim
  • You intended to make a fraudulent insurance claim for profit
  • The accident resulted in the death of another individual

What Are the Sentences for Vehicle Manslaughter?

A California vehicular manslaughter charge can carry different penalties, punishments, and sentences depending on the charge and type of offense. If charged with vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence, you may spend up to 1 year in county jail.

If charged with vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence under California’s vehicle manslaughter, your case is classified as a “wobbler.” This means the prosecutor can charge you with a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of your case.

Gross-negligence vehicular manslaughter charged as a misdemeanor will result in a similar sentence as vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence, up to one year in county jail and accompanying fines. However, if you are convicted of a felony count of vehicular manslaughter, you will face 2, 4, or 5 years in state prison.

Committing vehicular manslaughter for financial gain and insurance purposes is considered a felony for which you can face a state prison sentence of 4, 6, or 10 years.

What About Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?

Your vehicle manslaughter case might become more complex if you were driving while intoxicated. This is because driving under the influence and committing vehicular manslaughter is a separate crime under Penal Code 191.5.

An accident caused by ordinary negligence while driving under the influence may be classified as a wobbler, resulting in a misdemeanor. You could face a county jail sentence of up to 1 year or a prison sentence of 16 months, 2 years, or 3 years.

However, if you committed gross negligence vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you may be charged with a felony. This carries a state prison sentence of 4, 6, or 10 years. If you have a prior conviction related to intoxicated driving or vehicular manslaughter, you can face up to 15 years in prison.

Defense Strategies for Manslaughter Cases

Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney is crucial when facing a vehicular manslaughter charge. Mariya Melkonyan has extensive experience with defending people accused of vehicular manslaughter. She can put together an effective defense strategy for your case, including the following:

Your Actions Weren’t Negligent

Your defense attorney can argue your actions were reasonable and not negligent at the time of the accident. If the prosecution raises the possibility of gross negligence, your attorney can say that your actions were under ordinary negligence.

For example, they can argue that you were driving the speed limit but failed to see a pedestrian crossing the street rather than speeding through an intersection.

Accident Reconstruction

A skilled defense attorney can work with accident reconstructionists to review the crime scene and determine the victim’s cause of death. A reconstructionist can examine crime scene evidence and piece together what occurred, potentially negating the assumption that your actions resulted in the person’s death.

For example, without witnesses, police may assume you were recklessly speeding and ran into a pedestrian. After a reconstructionist examines the evidence, they may discover that the pedestrian darted into the road unexpectedly or had been drinking and stumbled into the road, giving you no time to stop.

The Victim Did Not Die as a Result of Your Actions

Car accidents can involve several variables, with many accounting as substantial factors in a victim’s death. An experienced defense attorney can develop an argument that your actions had little or nothing to do with the other person’s death.

For instance, Maria Melkonyan can investigate all factors of your case to determine if the person died due to a preexisting medical condition or another factor unrelated to your driving.

Sudden and Unexpected Emergency

Your defense attorney can argue you were in a sudden and unexpected emergency to show you weren’t negligent in the accident. For example, you suffered a heart problem or stroke or reacted to another driver’s poor judgment. Your attorney can demonstrate that you handled the situation with the same caution and judgment that a reasonable person would in the same situation.

How Can I Get Help with My Vehicular Manslaughter Case?

Legal representation from Mariya Melkonyan is crucial to securing the most favorable outcome after a charge of vehicular manslaughter in California. The experience she gained as a Deputy District Attorney for 13 years gives Mariya a unique perspective on prosecuting attorneys.

Due to her experience, she can develop a sound legal defense strategy to protect your rights and fight for the best outcome in your case.

Portait shot of Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Mariya Melkonyan with her contact information. Phone number 424-901-3131

Contact the Law Offices of Mariya Melkonyan to represent your interests if you are facing vehicular manslaughter charges in California.

Mariya will work on your behalf to reduce your charges, have them thrown out, or get you a minimum sentence from the court.

Complete the online contact form or call Mariya today to get started on your defense.

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