Vehicular manslaughter is an unintentional homicide that occurs while someone is driving a motor vehicle. This crime is codified in California Penal Code section 192(b) and the severity of charges depends on whether the defendant’s conduct was classified as ordinary or grossly negligent. If you, or someone close to you, is under investigation or charged with vehicular manslaughter, San Bernardino and Riverside County homicide lawyer Gregory H. Comings can help. Attorney Comings will communicate your legal rights to you as he works to reduce or dismiss the criminal charges against you, and will assist you during all phases of your criminal proceeding.
To demonstrate all elements of vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution must show: (1) while driving, the defendant committed a misdemeanor or committed a lawful act unlawfully; (2) this act was dangerous to others; (3) the act was committed with negligence, and; (4) the act caused a death. If the defendant committed a felony, most likely they will face charges under the felony murder rule, not vehicular manslaughter. Negligence is a breached duty of care owed to others sharing the road.
Ordinary negligence refers to a defendant’s failure to use reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm. A driver may be held negligent if they do something a reasonably careful driver would not do, in the same situation, and this directly causes harm. They can also be legally accountable for harm if they fail to do something that a reasonably careful person would do, such as reducing their speed while driving in a rainstorm or texting behind the wheel.
Gross negligence refers to when drivers knowingly act in a manner that creates a high risk of death or bodily injury. In some cases, their actions demonstrate a disregard for human life. This type of negligence includes actions that cause death in a direct, natural, and probable manner.
It is significant for vehicular manslaughter charges that a defendant’s grossly negligent act need only be a substantial factor in the death, not the only cause. If the defendant was weaving in traffic and hit a pedestrian who was injured, but not killed, the defendant may be liable if another car then strikes and kills the pedestrian. The rationale is that the defendant’s reckless, unlawful conduct was a substantial factor in the pedestrian’s death.
According to California law, penalties for vehicular manslaughter depend upon whether the defendant faces misdemeanor or felony charges. Misdemeanor convictions carry a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail. Felony charges may lead to six years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In most cases, simple negligence will lead to misdemeanor charges, whereas gross negligence is charged as a felony. The prosecution has the right to charge gross vehicular manslaughter as either a felony or misdemeanor because it is a “wobbler” according to California law.
To fight these charges it is important for an attorney to examine the circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. One potential defense is causation. A defendant cannot be held liable for a killing if their actions did not proximately and directly cause the death. For this defense to apply, the defendant’s conduct cannot have been a substantial factor that led to the death.
Another defense may be that the defendant’s conduct did not rise to the level of negligence or gross negligence. The prosecution must show that the defendant’s actions, or failure to act, did not mirror that of a reasonable person. This standard is challenging, particularly when someone is driving under circumstances that require quick and sometimes emergency decisions. If there was an unexpected emergency on the road, the prosecution would have to show that the defendant driver did not act reasonably under those circumstances.
To begin the process of learning more about your legal rights, consult The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings. We help people throughout Riverside and San Bernardino Counties in need of criminal defense advocacy. Our priority is to assert a strong defense based on the unique circumstances of your case. We represent clients throughout areas of Palm Desert, Temecula, Moreno Valley, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, and Palm Springs. For an appointment, call us at (951) 686-3457 or contact us online.