Driving is inherently a dangerous activity with the potential for life-changing consequences, like vehicular manslaughter charges. Vehicular manslaughter charges could come up when you least expect them. For example, imagine a scenario where you and your roommate are driving back to your residence after a tiresome day. Unfortunately, before you arrive at your neighborhood, you crash with another vehicle at an intersection.

If you are in this confusing situation, it is natural to worry because vehicular manslaughter charges could ruin your life and reputation upon conviction. Even if the crash was accidental or unintentional, the prosecutor could file misdemeanor or felony vehicular manslaughter charges against you because it is a wobbler offense.

Depending on the severity of your charges, your sentence upon a vehicular manslaughter charge conviction could include jail time, probation, license suspension, and fines. However, there are chances that you can avoid these harsh penalties by retaining the services of a skilled defense attorney.

Our attorneys at Monterey Criminal Attorney can assist you in understanding what you are up against and preparing defense arguments that can weaken the prosecutor's case against you to obtain a favorable outcome. Read on for everything you need to know about vehicular manslaughter charges.

Vehicular Manslaughter Charges at a Glance

Manslaughter is a type of homicide that occurs when you kill another person accidentally or without justification. Manslaughter differs from murder because the latter requires the prosecutor to prove that you had the intention of killing the person or malice aforethought.

That means, even though you had no criminal motive or intent to kill or injure another person, the prosecutor would typically charge you with manslaughter and not murder, which carries harsher penalties upon conviction.

Vehicular manslaughter is a type of manslaughter that occurs when you kill another person while driving negligently or unlawfully. Here are a few examples of acts or situations that could attract vehicular manslaughter charges under Penal Code 192(c) PC:

  • When speeding on a busy highway, a teenager crashes into another vehicle, killing the driver on the spot.
  • When sending a message while driving, a man hits a motorcyclist from the rear, but unfortunately, he/she dies later while on his/her way to the hospital.
  • A lady intentionally runs a stop sign while speeding with hopes or intentions of securing insurance coverage for her vehicle, but in doing so, she crashes and kills a cyclist.

The severity of vehicular manslaughter charges and the penalties you are likely to face upon a conviction under this statute will depend on the following factors:

  • Whether you were under the influence.
  • Whether you have a criminal record.
  • The degree of your negligence.

What to Expect After an Arrest as a Culprit in a Vehicular Manslaughter Case

The criminal justice system starts with an arrest. Therefore, it is important to understand your legal rights after an arrest and what to expect afterward to stand a chance of securing a favorable outcome. Even if the arrest seems unjustified, it is a wise idea to remain calm when dealing with the police to avoid making your case worse and remember your constitutional rights, including:

  • Right to retain the services of an attorney.
  • Right to remain silent unless asked for your legal name.
  • Right to humane treatment.

Once the police arrest you as a suspect in a vehicular manslaughter case, they will take you to the police station, where a booking procedure occurs. During this process, a booking officer will do the following:

  • Record your vehicular manslaughter charges, legal name, and physical characteristics like height and skin tone.
  • Take your fingerprints and mugshots.
  • Confiscate your items, like belts and necklaces.
  • Search your body for foreign items or illegal drugs.

After the booking process, the police could release you on bail or hold you in custody until your initial court hearing. Whether the police will release you on bail or hold you in custody after the booking process depends on your case's sophistication and whether it has a predetermined bail amount.

Bail Price for a PC 192(c) Charge

After an arrest as a suspect in a vehicular manslaughter case, you should worry about securing your freedom as soon as possible. One way you can do that is by paying bail, which acts as security for your release as your case proceeds through various stages of the criminal justice system.

When determining your charge’s bail price, the judge presiding over your case will consider various factors, including:

  • Your ability to pay or whether you have employment.
  • Whether you are a flight risk.
  • The seriousness of the offense.
  • Your criminal record.

Depending on these factors, the court could require you to pay up to $100,000 in bail to secure your freedom before your case's judgment. Since this amount is a financial burden to most defendants, many opt to work with a bondsman to secure their release from jail, pending the outcome of their case.

A bondsman will charge you ten (10) percent of your case bail price as his/her service fee (premium). Then, he/she will sign a contract with the court, assuring it that he/she will pay your full bail amount when you fail to make your scheduled court appearances to challenge your charges.

Forms of Vehicular Manslaughter Offenses the Prosecutor Could File Against You

Unlike the offenses of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter occurs when you are driving. Depending on the particulars and circumstances of your unique case, the prosecutor could file any of the following types of vehicular manslaughter offenses against you:

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter with Excessive or Gross Negligence

According to Penal Code (PC) 192(c)(1), the court could convict a person of vehicular manslaughter with gross or excessive negligence if:

  • While operating a car, you committed a misdemeanor, an infraction, or any lawful action that could cause the death of another person.
  • Your conduct or act was dangerous to the safety and life of other people.
  • Your acts or conduct portrayed excessive or gross negligence.
  • Your act or conduct caused another person's death.

Below is a thorough explanation of some of the terms in the above elements of the crime under PC 192(c)(1):

  1. A Misdemeanor, an Infraction, or any Lawful Action That Could Cause Another Person's Death

To be guilty of a PC 192(c)(1) violation, the prosecution team must prove the following:

  • You committed a non-felonious crime or
  • You committed a legal act in a manner that could likely cause the death of another person.

It is worth noting that if you kill another person while committing a felony, the prosecutor will file murder charges against you, not vehicular manslaughter charges.

  1. Gross Negligence

The key term in the legal definition of vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code (PC) 192(c)(1) is gross negligence. If the prosecution team cannot provide evidence to prove that your excessive or gross negligence conduct or act led to the death of the person, you would not be guilty under this statute. However, you could be guilty of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

Generally speaking, gross negligence is an act that is beyond ordinary inattentiveness, error, or carelessness in judgment. In other words, gross negligence occurs when:

  • You acted recklessly, creating high chances or a high risk of death or severe bodily injury.
  • A reasonable and sober person in a similar situation would know that behavior, conduct, or act would create that risk.
  1. Causing Another Person's Death

To secure a conviction against you under this statute, the prosecutor must show the court that your gross conduct or act led to another person's death. That means the person's death was due to the direct, probable, and natural consequences of your conduct or act.

  1. Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter Offense

Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter laws are codified under Penal Code (PC) 192(c)(2). To secure a conviction against you under this law, the prosecution team must satisfactorily prove the following facts at trial:

  • While operating a car, you committed a misdemeanor, an infraction, or a legal act in an illegal way.
  • Your act was dangerous to the safety and life of other people under those circumstances.
  • You acted or operated a vehicle with ordinary or normal negligence.
  • Your conduct or act led to another person's death.

For the sake of this statute, ordinary or “normal” negligence means that you refused or failed to use reasonable and standard care to prevent another person's foreseeable injury or death.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter for Monetary or Financial Gain

According to Penal Code 192(c)(3), you commit the offense of vehicular manslaughter for financial or monetary reasons if:

  • While operating a car, you knowingly participate in or cause an accident or collision.
  • You did so with the intent to defraud your auto insurance company or another party.
  • The accident led to another person's death.

In other words, you would be guilty of a PC 192(c)(3) violation when you cause another person's death while intentionally and deliberately wrecking or crashing your car with the criminal intent to commit auto insurance fraud.

Potential Sentence for a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge

The type of vehicular manslaughter charge the prosecutor will file against you will determine the severity of the penalties you will receive upon a conviction at trial. Here are the potential penalties for a PC 192(c)(1) violation, a PC 192(c)(2) violation, and a PC 192(c)(3) violation, respectively:

A PC 192(c)(1) Violation Conviction

A vehicular manslaughter charge under PC 192(c)(1) could attract felony or misdemeanor penalties because it is a wobbler. Whether the prosecutor will file your charge as a felony or misdemeanor will typically depend on the following factors:

  • The facts and circumstances of your unique case.
  • Your criminal record.

A felony PC 192(c)(1) violation conviction will carry a jail term of up to six years and a fine of up to $1,000. However, if charged as a misdemeanor, your sentence upon a conviction under this statute will include a fine not exceeding $1,000 and up to one year of detention in the county jail.

A PC 192(c)(2) Violation Conviction

The prosecutor will file a PC 192(c)(2) charge as a misdemeanor, carrying the following potential sentence upon conviction:

  • A fine not exceeding $1,000.
  • Detention in the county jail for not more than one (1) year.

A PC 192(c)(3) Violation Conviction

If you are guilty of a PC 192(c)(3) violation, you should expect the following felony penalties:

  • Detention in the state prison for not more than ten years.
  • A fine amounting to up to $10,000.

In addition to these legal consequences, if you are guilty of either a PC 192(c)(3) violation or a PC 192(c)(3) violation, the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) will revoke your DL (driver's license). Once the DMV revokes your DL, you must wait at least three years to regain your driving privileges.

Probation as an Alternative Sentence for a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge Conviction

Depending on the facts of your case, your criminal record, and your attorney's mitigating arguments, you could qualify for felony or misdemeanor probation instead of imprisonment upon a conviction under any of these statutes. If the court sentences you to probation, you should be happy because you will serve a part or entire sentence out of legal custody.

However, the court will set strict terms and requirements that you must comply with during your probation period. Some of these terms and requirements include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Consent to regular meetings with a court-appointed probation officer.
  • Submit to regular alcohol screening and drug testing.
  • Perform community service.
  • Agree to electronic monitoring.
  • Pay restitution to the family of the deceased.
  • Stay crime-free.

How long your probation will last will depend on the facts of your case. Typically, felony or formal probation can last for up to three years. However, misdemeanor or informal probation will last up to one year.

If you violate or fail to adhere to your probation terms and requirements for the maximum duration required by the court, the judge will issue an arrest warrant, authorizing police to arrest you. Upon an arrest for probation violation, an offense under PC 1203.2(a), the court will hold a hearing to determine whether the allegations you are up against are true.

Your defense attorney can attend this hearing on your behalf and provide the necessary evidence, including eyewitness testimonies, to help prove to the court that you did not violate any probation requirement or condition. After listening to the prosecutor's aggravating arguments and your attorney's mitigating arguments, the court could decide to do the following:

  • Give you a stern warning and reinstate your probation with the same terms.
  • Modify your probation requirement and include harsher and stricter terms.
  • Revoke your probation and sentence you to jail for the maximum period required for a vehicular manslaughter charge conviction under PC 192(c).

How a Defense Attorney Can Help if You Have a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge

Your defense attorney can utilize several legal defenses to challenge your vehicular manslaughter charges. A reliable attorney understands every criminal case is unique and will closely examine your case details to craft defenses that can increase your odds of obtaining a less severe charge or dismissal of the charges.

Common legal defenses your attorney can raise on your behalf at trial to secure the best possible results on your criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter include:

Your Negligence or Conduct Did Not Cause Another Person's Death

Even if your unlawful or lawful conduct or act led to another person's death, proving that your recklessness or negligence was the cause of that death could be a challenging legal issue for the prosecutor. Your attorney can argue that the victim's death was caused by his/her negligence or a third party's negligence.

The court will likely drop or reduce your PC 192(c) charges if your defense attorney has sufficient evidence to support this defense argument beyond a reasonable doubt.

Your Conduct Does Not Qualify as Gross Negligence or Negligence

Gross negligence and negligence have a clear legal definition under PC 192(c)(1) and PC(c)(2), respectively. Since driving is inherently a dangerous activity, you need to be able to make quick decisions to avoid foreseeable accidents. However, sometimes, even after doing so, an accident can occur.

When that happens, it could be challenging for the prosecutor to argue that your negligence caused the accident. If your attorney can argue with sufficient evidence that your conduct does not qualify as negligence, the court cannot convict you for a PC 192(c)(2) violation.

Similarly, to fight a PC 192(c)(3) charge, your defense attorney can argue that your conduct does not qualify as gross negligence. In most cases, when charged with a PC 192(c)(3) violation, a seasoned defense attorney will argue that your conduct was negligent (but not grossly so) to obtain reduced penalties.

You Encountered an Emergency Issue, and You Had to Act Reasonably Under Those Circumstances

If you encountered an emergency necessitating similar care and judgment that a reasonable and sober driver would apply under the same circumstances, you would not be guilty under PC 192(c). For instance, when you accidentally crash another vehicle after swerving out of your lane to avoid an animal or pothole that could damage your car, the court cannot convict you for a PC 192(c) violation.

You are a Victim of a Mistaken Identity

For a vehicular manslaughter charge conviction, the prosecution team must prove to the court that it was you who was behind the wheel when the auto accident or collision occurred. If it is challenging for the prosecution team to prove this fact beyond a reasonable doubt, chances are the court will drop your vehicular manslaughter charges.

For instance, that is possible if the accident that led to another person’s death occurred at night and eyewitnesses did not see the parties involved in the crash. In that situation, it is easy for an eyewitness to make a mistake when identifying the actual culprit(s) to blame for the accident.

Vehicular Manslaughter and Closely Related Offenses

The prosecutor has a variety of offenses that he/she could file against you if it is impossible to obtain a conviction against you for a vehicular manslaughter charge due to insufficient evidence. Below are two common offenses related to vehicular manslaughter offense:

A PC 191.5 Violation

According to Penal Code (PC) 191.5, you commit the crime of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated when you kill another individual while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The prosecutor will file your charges under PC 191.5(a) if he/she has evidence to prove that:

  • You killed another person.
  • You were driving under the influence.
  • You acted with gross negligence.

A PC 191.5(a) violation conviction will attract felony penalties, including up to ten (10) years of jail time and a fine not exceeding $10,000. However, if you did not do so with negligence, the prosecutor will file your charges under PC 191.5(b). A conviction under this statute is punishable by up to three (3) years of jail time.

In most cases, if the prosecutor cannot obtain a conviction against you for a PC 191.5 violation due to insufficient evidence, he/she will file PC 192(c) charges against you, which carry lighter penalties.

Watson Murder

Also known as DUI murder, you commit a Watson murder offense when you cause another person's death while operating a vehicle under the influence, and any of the facts listed below are true:

  • You have a DUI-related conviction record.
  • You have received the necessary education about the dangers of DUI, and the court handed you a "Watson Advertisement" after receiving your first DUI conviction.

For the sake of Penal Code 187, a "Watson advertisement" is a caution that it is risky to drive under the influence and that causing another person's death when doing so could attract murder charges. Since DUI or Watson murder is chargeable under Penal Code 187, "felony murder law," a conviction could attract severe penalties, including up to twenty-five of jail time.

Find a Seasoned Defense Attorney Near Me

Allegations that you are a suspect in a vehicular manslaughter case are undoubtedly stressful because you do not know how the court will treat the case. In this situation, contacting a reliable attorney should be your first step.

Aside from informing you of your legal rights during the investigation process and helping you secure your freedom on bail, your defense attorney can help you challenge these allegations at trial. We invite you to call our reliable defense attorneys at Monterey Criminal Attorney if you or a loved one is under arrest or investigation as a culprit in a vehicular manslaughter case.

Once you contact us at 831-574-1791, we will investigate your case immediately and prepare suitable defenses to help you secure a favorable outcome.