Vehicular Manslaughter Law - Penal Code 191.5(b) PC
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is described under California Penal Code Section 191.5(b). This law applies to a situation where you were driving recklessly under the influence of alcohol or drugs and caused an accident that kills another person – that was a direct consequence of a DUI accident.
In other words, if you are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you could face DUI charges. If you're driving under the influence and caused the death of someone else, you could be charged with the much more serious charge of vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code 191.5.
It should be noted there are separate statutes of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges. Penal Code 191.5(b) describes a situation of being negligent or careless.
Penal Code 191.5(a) describes an act of gross negligence, which is more than just being careless – it's acting clearly in an unreasonable and unsafe manner. Penal Code 191.5(b) is commonly known as “vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence.”
A common example of PC 191.5(b) includes a situation where you were driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or more – talking on your cell without a required hands-free device – and strike and kill someone crossing the street. Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a “wobbler” in California, meaning the case can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime.
If you were arrested for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you should call an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer at Cron, Israels & Stark to review the details of your case.
Definition of DUI Vehicular Manslaughter in California
California penal Code 191.5(b) defines vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence as:
The unlawful killing of a someone while driving a motor vehicle without malice aforethought when their driving was in violation of California Vehicle Codes, and the killing was the result of the committing an unlawful act.
This law describes a somewhat complex definition for this form of manslaughter because it's a less serious murder charge. In a manslaughter case, there is no intent to kill someone else.
Under the legal definition of Penal Code 191.5(b) – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence – there are specific elements of the crime listed under CALCRIM 591 Jury Instructions. In order to obtain a conviction, the prosecutor has to be able to prove each element, including:
- You were unlawfully driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- While driving under the influence, you committed a misdemeanor crime, infraction, or otherwise unlawful act that might cause death of someone else
- You committed the misdemeanor crime or infraction with ordinary negligence, and
- Your negligent conduct caused the death of someone else
It should be noted the elements of the crime listed above means you must have acted with “negligence” while violating the law in order to be guilty of violating California Penal Code Section 191.5(b) – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
In California, you are considered under the influence of drugs or driving intoxicated when you are in violation of Vehicle Code 23152(a) – driving under the influence – with blood alcohol level of .08 or higher – or driving under the influence of drugs, or a combination of both. If you were under 21 years old and driving with a blood alcohol level of .05 or higher, it's considered a DUI.
Definition of Ordinary Negligence
Ordinary negligence is described as carelessness – a lapse in judgment – or not paying attention. In other words, you didn't use reasonable care to prevent reasonably predictable harm to someone else, when a reasonably prudent person would have in the same situation.
A common example or ordinary negligence includes a situation where you are driving your car under the influence and take your eyes off the road in front of you to read a text message from a friend, which is a long enough distraction to cause an accident where another person is killed.
This classic example of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under Penal Code 191.5(b) would apply because another person was killed due to your negligent conduct that was a direct and probable consequence.
Definition of Gross Negligence
Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges are described under California Penal Code 191.5(a). Just driving under the influence is not sufficient to support charges for gross vehicular manslaughter.
In order to be convicted for gross vehicular manslaughter under PC 191.5(a), you have to drive under the influence and act with gross negligence. This means you acted in a reckless way creating a high risk of death or great bodily injury, and a reasonable person would have known acting in this manner created such a risk.
In other words, your conduct was so outrageous, it created a substantial risk of significant physical injuries or death to another person.
Penalties for DUI Vehicular Manslaughter in California
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence under California Penal Section 191.5(b) is a “wobbler” that can be filed as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. The Los Angeles County prosecutor will normally make their decision based on the circumstances of the case and your criminal history.
If convicted of a misdemeanor crime of Penal Code 191.5(b), the penalties include:
- Up to one year in a Los Angeles county jail
- A fine up to $1,000
- Summary probation
- Restitution to victim's family
If convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as a felony offense, you will be facing the following penalties:
- Up to 4 years in a California state prison
- Additional 3 to 6 years if other victims suffered serious injuries
- A fine up to $10,000
- Formal probation
- Restitution to victim's family
It should be noted these penalties are in addition to DUI penalties that include alcohol or drug treatment – drivers license suspension and mandatory DUI classes. A conviction will also result in your driver's license being suspended for one year.
Related California Offenses
Penal Code Section 191.5(a) – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Penal Code Section 192(c) – Vehicular Manslaughter
Penal Code Section 187 – DUI Watson Murder
Fighting DUI Vehicular Manslaughter Charges
If you have been charged with California Penal Code Section 191.5(b) – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence – or gross negligence under Penal Code 191.5(a), you will need to retain an experienced Los Angeles criminal lawyer.
A conviction will have life-altering consequences. A thorough independent defense investigation must be conducted in order to determine the best strategy. Our law firm can utilize the services of numerous professionals, such as accident reconstruction experts, in preparing your defense. We might be able to have your charges reduced or dismissed. Common legal strategies to defend you against charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated include the following.
You were not under the influence
We will investigate how your breath or blood test were taken and explore whether we can have the test results suppressed. We will examine the police procedures used in your DUI arrest and investigation to uncover any police misconduct or unlawful actions.
We can challenge the prosecutor's claim you were intoxicated at the time of the accident. We can also challenge the validity your blood or breath test results by showing the instruments were unreliable.
No negligent conduct
In some cases, we might be able to make an argument you conduct was not negligent. Just because you may have made a wrong split-second decision, it doesn't mean it meets the definition of negligence.
In other words, we can challenge the prosecutor's claim you're driving at the time of the accident was different than a reasonably careful person – and there was no negligent conduct. Serious accidents that caused the death of another person are often complicated and it's not always easy to determine exactly how it happened.
Our experienced defense attorneys know how to challenge the prosecution's claims of how the accident occurred – especially with the assistance of an accident reconstruction expert witness. If you have been accused of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in violation of California Penal Code 191.5(b), contact the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Cron, Israels & Stark.
We serve clients throughout Southern California, including the greater Los Angeles area and the San Fernando Valley. We offer a free case evaluation by calling our law firm at 424-372-3112.