What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Jan 05, 2018 | Criminal Defense, Vehicular Manslaughter

What happens when you are driving a car and cause the death of another person? In California, you can face criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter if your unlawful or negligent conduct causes a fatal accident. If you are facing criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter it is important to speak with an experienced criminal lawyer as soon as you can. The consequences of a conviction are incredibly harsh. In some cases, you may face serious time behind bars and steep fines. You have the power to fight the vehicular manslaughter charges against you, and the Rodriguez Law Group can help.

What is Vehicular Manslaughter?

Vehicular manslaughter, as defined in California Penal Code 191.5 PC, occurs when you drive a motor vehicle and cause the death of another person. In order to face criminal charges, your conduct must have been illegal and/or negligent. This means that you do not necessarily have to break the law in order to face criminal charges. If your conduct is considered negligent, and another person is killed as a result, you can be charged with this crime.

How is negligence determined? In California, you will be considered negligent when you breach a duty of care you owe to another person. When you operate a motor vehicle you assume certain duties. These include following the rules of the road, obeying traffic signals, and operating the vehicle in a safe manner. These duties are imposed to make sure that no one is put at an increased risk of harm while they are on the road. When your behavior deviates from these duties and another person suffers an injury you can be held both criminally and civilly responsible. In reality, something as simple as taking your eyes off of the road to take a sip of coffee or check on your kids in the back seat could be considered negligent conduct. Taking your eyes off of the road or diverting your attention from your job as a driver can be enough to warrant criminal charges.

Fighting Vehicular Manslaughter Charges in Los Angeles

Just because another person is killed in a Los Angeles traffic accident in which you are involved does not mean that you will automatically be charged with a crime. The prosecution will have to prove that you were engaged in an unlawful behavior (e.g., speeding, drag racing, fleeing police or the scene of a crime, driving under the influence of alcohol) or exhibited negligent conduct (e.g., driving while fatigued, adjusting the radio, eating while driving). You cannot be convicted of the crime unless the prosecution can establish one or the other.

When you do face charges of vehicular manslaughter, you have the right to assert any argument that explains, excuses, or justifies your alleged behavior. When these arguments are persuasive it will be very difficult for the prosecution to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This will help your attorney secure a reduction in charges or getting your case dismissed altogether. Defenses that may be helpful in your Los Angeles vehicular manslaughter case include:

  • Outside factors, such as traffic or weather, contributed to the cause of the accident;
  • You were not engaged in unlawful or negligent behavior;
  • You have been falsely accused; or
  • Your conduct in the specific situation was warranted.

Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony in Los Angeles. The severity of the charge you face will depend on whether your conduct is classified as:

  1. unlawful behavior
  2. ordinary negligence, or
  3. gross negligence.

Vehicular Manslaughter, Unlawful Behavior

The type of unlawful act you commit will generally dictate the criminal charge you will face. If you committed a misdemeanor, you will likely face misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges. In this case, you will face up to one year in a Los Angeles County jail and $1,000 in criminal fines. If you committed a felony, you will face felony vehicular manslaughter charges. In this case, you will face up to 6 years in a California state prison, $10,000 in criminal fines, and the loss of your driving privileges.

Vehicular Manslaughter, Ordinary Negligence

If your conduct is considered to be ordinary negligence, you will generally face misdemeanor charges. Ordinary negligence occurs when you engage in conduct that breaches your duty of care, but is not outrageous or particularly dangerous. Taking your eyes off of the road to change the radio station or leaning over to pick something up off of the back seat would likely be classified as conduct amounting to ordinary negligence.

Vehicular Manslaughter, Gross Negligence

If your conduct is so outrageous and reckless that it creates a high risk of great bodily harm or death you will likely face charges of gross vehicular manslaughter. This crime is punishable by up to 6 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. You will be considered to have acted with gross negligence when your conduct is unreasonable and displays a disregard for human life.

If your conduct involves the use of alcohol or the intentional destruction of property for financial gain you will likely face aggravated charges.

Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you have been arrested for vehicular manslaughter you should not hesitate to contact an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney for help. You have the ability to fight the criminal charges you face, and criminal defense attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez can help. With nearly two decades of legal experience, including 13 years as a state prosecutor, Mr. Rodriguez knows how to handle these serious allegations and secure the best possible outcome in your case.

To learn more, call our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm at 213-995-6767 or visit our contact us page to send us an email.