Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges are covered under California Penal Code Section 191.5(a). Its basic definition is the unlawful killing of another person while driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This serious crime occurs when you commit a DUI and a grossly negligent act that ends up killing another human being.
Under California law, if your driving under the influence caused another person's death, the prosecutor can files charges against you under Penal Code 191.5. It's important to note there are two versions of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges. What's the difference? One is Penal Code 191.5(b) which involves ordinary negligence, but does not rise to the level of gross negligence.
In other words, PC 191.5(b) will be charged if you were simply careless, or made a mistake in judgment. While it's still a serious offense, it's the lesser version of the charges. The more serious version of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is Penal Code 191.5(a), which is with gross negligence, meaning you acted in an obvious unreasonable manner, causing the death of another person.
Clearly, gross negligence is much more severe and it's acting in a manner that poses a high risk of harming someone. In order to cover all the legal definitions, we are going to focus here on the more serious Penal Code Section 191.5(a), which is commonly known as gross DUI manslaughter in Los Angeles County criminal courts.
It's important to note that this criminal offense is committed without malice aforethought, meaning there was no intent to kill, which would be required for a murder conviction. Instead, the killing of another person occurred during an either unlawful, yet grossly negligent act, or even a lawful act that could produce death in an unlawful manner with gross negligence.
If you are facing allegations of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you need to consult with a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Eisner Gorin LLP immediately. In order to better understand the differences in vehicular manslaughter charges in California, let's take a closer examination below.
Case Example of Gross Negligence
As an example to explain when gross negligence would apply, let's take a situation where you may have been heavily drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana at a party. When you finally decide to leave the party, you are driving home at a high rate of speed while severely intoxicated and are finding it difficult to clearly see other cars or objects on the roadway ahead.
In fact, everything looks blurry. At this point, you rear-end the vehicle in front of you who was stopped at a red light going 80 mph. The collision causes the car to roll over and burst into flames, killing the driver. In this example, you could face criminal charges under California Penal Code Section 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Why? Because you were driving while severely intoxicated, unable to even focus on the road ahead, and speeding. This means you were acting grossly negligent and in a reckless manner that created a high risk of death or great bodily injury for other drivers or pedestrians. In addition, any reasonable person would have known that acting in this manner would create a high risk.
Legal Definition of Gross DUI Manslaughter
California Penal Code Section 191.5(a) legally defines the charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as follows:
Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a another person while driving a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of California Vehicle Codes, and the killing was either the immediate result of committing an unlawful act, not a felony, and with gross negligence, or the result of committing a lawful act that might produce death in an unlawful manner, with gross negligence.
What is Gross Negligence?
Again, as you can see above, there is a clear distinction in the definition about “gross negligence.” This is not to be confused with ordinary negligence. Gross negligence means you acted in a reckless manner that created a substantial risk of serious injury or death, and any other reasonable person would have known acting in this manner would create this high risk. It's far greater that ordinary carelessness or just a simple error in judgment.
By law, it can only be considered gross negligence if you acted far differently than a reasonably careful person would have acted in a similar situation and your actions clearly indicated you had no regard for human life.
It should be noted that driving under the influence while violating traffic laws is not typically sufficient to support a gross negligence claim. Los Angeles County juries will normally be informed to take into consideration other factors involving your conduct. For example, exactly how you were driving your vehicle and your specific level of intoxication. Contact a Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at our law firm for more detailed information.
How a Prosecutor Proves Gross DUI Manslaughter
In order to obtain a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the Los Angeles County prosecutor has to be able to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, all the elements of the crime. These include:
- You were driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic, or a drug, or both, while having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 or higher; or
- If you were under 21 years old at the time of the accident, you were driving a vehicle while having a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.05 or higher;
- While you were driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you committed a misdemeanor or infraction, or lawful act that might cause death;
- You committed the misdemeanor or infraction, or lawful act that might cause death with gross negligence;
- Your grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another person.
It should be noted here that causing the death of another person only applies if the prosecutor can prove your grossly negligent conduct actually caused death as a direct and probable consequence of your conduct.
Legal Penalties for Gross DUI Manslaughter
Under Penal Code 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is always a felony offense. If convicted, the legal penalties include a sentence of 4, 6, or 10 years in a California state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, and formal felony probation.
However, if you have a prior conviction under California Penal Code Section 191.5, or California Vehicle Code 23152, DUI, or Vehicle Code 23153, DUI causing injury, you could face a sentence in state prison of 15 years to life. Finally, since gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a serious felony offense, it is considered a “strike” offense under California's Three Strikes Law.
How to Fight Gross DUI Manslaughter Charges
A Los Angeles criminal defense attorney at our law firm can use several legal defenses on your behalf to fight your charges of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, in violastion of California Penal Code Section 191.5(a). Every case is unique and requires a close examination of all the details. Some common legal defenses include:
No gross negligent conduct – In certain situations, our criminal attorneys might be able to show that your conduct was not grossly negligent; rather it was only ordinary negligence. If successful, you can't be convicted of a gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated offense because one of the key elements of the crime is that the prosecutor must prove it was grossly negligent conduct.
Your gross negligence did not lead to victim's death – In some cases where your grossly negligent conduct can't be challenged, our lawyers might be able to present evidence showing it was another person's gross negligence that caused the victim's death. If successful in casting reasonable doubt, you could avoid being convicted of of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
You were not intoxicated – Our lawyers may be able to use some legal defenses to challenge that you were actually intoxicated at the time of the accident. For example, we could challenge the validity of your blood or breath test results. We could also review whether the police used any unlawful procedures or even police misconduct in your driving under the influence arrest.
Imminent peril – In a few cases, we might be able to argue that a sudden and unexpected emergency required you to drive under the influence in a situation where you normally would not.
There are some California laws closely related to Penal Code 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated that may be charged instead, including:
California Penal Code Section 191.5(b) – Negligent Manslaughter California Penal Code Section 192(a) – Voluntary Manslaughter California Penal Code Section 192(b) – Involuntary Manslaughter California Penal Code Section 192(c) – Vehicular Manslaughter California Penal Code Section 187 – Murder DUI Manslaughter – Watson Murder
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Contact Our Criminal Law Firm
The Los Angeles criminal defense law firm of Eisner Gorin LLP has substantial experience in defending clients who have been accused of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, in violation of California Penal Code Section 191.5(a). Let us thoroughly review the details in order to come up with an effective defense strategy. Contact us at 877-781-1570.