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Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated: What is the law and punishment?

California Penal Code 191.5(a) PC is a felony that is known as "gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence."  If you were arrested for a DUI that involved a death of a victim you will likely be facing a charge of PC 191.5(a).  Because of the seriousness of the charge and the potential for a lengthy state prison sentence, it is advised you have an experienced attorney to walk through the process.

What Must Be Proven in a Gross Vehicular Manslaughter Case?

PC 191.5(a) requires the following must be proven:

  1. The driver of a vehicle violated either VC 23140, VC 23152, and VC 23153;  and
  2. The killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or
  3. The killing was the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence; and
  4. That unlawful or negligent act was the cause of death of a human being.

In the United States justice system, a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The prosecutor has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt that a manslaughter has occurred.

PC 191.5(a) Penalties

PC 191.5(a) is a felony that carries potentially significant penalties if convicted including:

If you have no prior convictions or strikes:

Formal Probation.
Fine.  Up to $10,000.
Jail.  State prison for  4, 6, or 10 years
Strikes.  PC 191.5 will count as a strike on your criminal record.
License Revocation.  The DMV will revoke your license for a period of at least 3 years.

Sentence Enhancements:

Prior Convictions

If you have a prior conviction of any of the following:

  1. PC 191.5 Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated,
  2. PC 192(c) for Gross vehicular manslaughter,
  3. Penal Code 192.5(a) or (b) vehicular manslaughter while operating a boat,
  4. VC 23152 VC DUI, or
  5. VC 23153 VC DUI causing injury.

you will be facing a sentence of 15 years to Life in State Prison.  In addition, you could face second-degree murder charges if you have a prior DUI conviction under the Watson Murder Rule.

Victims with great bodily injury

For each addition victim that experienced great bodily injury caused by your gross negligence, an additional three to six year consecutive sentence may be imposed.

PC 191.5(a) Defenses

The complicated nature of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with gross negligence will add to the difficulty of proving your guilty.  Here are the most common issues in cases:

You were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of driving

Proving a driver was under influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of driving is a difficult task for a prosecutor.  The fact that a traffic collision occurred is not a smoking gun that you were under the influence, drivers are involved in accidents everyday without consuming alcohol or drugs.  In addition, an Officer typically does not obtain evidence of intoxication or drug use until significantly after starting his investigation.  Your BAC is constantly increasing or decreasing over time making it difficult to calculate a precise BAC at the time of driving when results may not be obtained until hours after the arrest.  Remember, having alcohol or drugs in your system while driving is not illegal, you must be under the influence of alcohol and drugs at the time of driving.  Your BAC at the police station hours later or the detection of drugs in your system does not automatically make you guilty.  

The victim's death was not caused by your gross negligence

Gross negligence is defined in People v. Penny as "[an] act or acts which are aggravated, culpable, gross or reckless and which are such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily prudent, careful person under the same circumstances."  This is a high standard and requires you to have acted in an extremely careless manner that resulted in death.  Just because you are at fault does not mean you acted with gross negligence.  In addition, if proven that you acted with gross negligence, your gross negligence had to have been the proximate cause of the victim's death.  If your negligence did not directly or indirectly cause the death of the victim, you will not be convicted.

Bottom line, you need an experienced attorney who is willing to walk you through the entire process, evaluate your case effectively for weaknesses and exploit the issues in your case to achieve the best results.  The Law Offices of Steven McNicholl has that experience and will get you through your case in the best shape possible.

See also

VC 23140 Underage Drinking and Driving

VC 23152(a) Driving under the Influence

VC 23152(b) DUI with BAC of .08% or above

VC 23153(a) DUI causing injury

VC 23152(b) DUI causing injury with BAC of .08% or more

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If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, call the Law Offices of Steven McNicholl at (951) 405-0990. We have the skill and experience in San Bernardino County to protect your rights and get the best results in your case.

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