The consequences of an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) can be steep on their own. However, the potential penalties can grow substantially when an intoxicated driver injures someone in a crash. If the crash results in fatal injuries to another person, that driver could face arrest for gross vehicular manslaughter.
Gross vehicular manslaughter is a serious crime and a conviction could have a devastating effect on your life and your freedom. With the potential of spending a decade of your life behind bars, it is crucial that you hire the right criminal defense lawyer for your situation. Attorney Vitaly Sigal has a track record of success when it comes to defending alcohol-related offenses. Contact the Sigal Law Group right away to learn how he will approach your defense.
Defining Gross Vehicular Manslaughter
Gross vehicular manslaughter is a very specific criminal act under state law. According to California Penal Code 191.5(a), the crime involves “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle…” when the driver was under the influence of an intoxicating substance.
Broken down, this specific statute is designed to punish anyone that accidentally kills another person while violating the state drunk driving laws. The accident aspect is important, as a killing with malice would constitute murder or another violent crime. The statute goes on to require that the killing:
was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
In other words, driving while intoxicated is not enough for a conviction of gross vehicular manslaughter. The charge also requires an additional “grossly negligent act” in addition to simply driving under the influence. This act could be as simple as a traffic violation.
Elements of the Crime
Under the statute, there are four elements that must be met for a prosecutor to convict you of gross vehicular manslaughter. These elements include:
- You were operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- While driving, you caused an accident due to a non-felony act;
- You committed this act with gross negligence; and
- This negligence resulted in another person's death.
These elements are complex and best understood through the use of examples.
Examples of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter in Los Angeles, CA
The following examples provide context for when a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter might be appropriate in Los Angeles, and when it is not.
After an evening out drinking with friends, you decide to drive home instead of hailing a taxi. You feel fine to drive despite having several drinks in the past hour.
You get in your car and head home when your phone starts to buzz. Realizing it is a text message reply you have been waiting hours for, you read it intently and lose concentration on the road in front of you. You never see the stop sign in front of you. You run the stop sign, strike a car already in the intersection, and kill the driver.
You are arrested by law enforcement after your breath sample reflects a blood alcohol concentration of .09. Because you were negligently texting while driving under the influence of alcohol, you could be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter.
Consider the same facts as before. As you are driving home, you ignore your buzzing phone and focus on the road in front of you. Despite your intoxication, you stay within your lane and do not violate any traffic laws.
As you head down the highway, a distraught person on the side of the road leaps into the path of your vehicle. The collision kills the person instantly. Law enforcement that arrive on the scene, however, arrest you because your blood alcohol concentration is .09. You, however, are unlikely to face charges of gross vehicular manslaughter because you did not commit a grossly negligent act. That does not mean you won't face other serious charges.
In California, gross vehicular manslaughter is always charged as a felony. If convicted, you could face a term of prison in a California state penitentiary for four, six, or ten years depending on the decision of the court. The charge also carries a maximum fine of up to $10,000.
There is also the potential for enhanced penalties, however. If you have a prior conviction for vehicular manslaughter or a prior DUI, you could face a sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
The defenses for this charge are similar in many ways to those in a DUI case. First and foremost, evidence that you were not intoxicated is arguably the strongest potential defense. If you can establish that you were not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the charge of gross vehicular manslaughter would not apply.
Additionally, you could have a viable defense if you can show your constitutional rights were violated. You are protected by the Constitution from unlawful searches or seizures. If you were pulled over or had your car searched illegally, any evidence collected could not be used against you at trial.
A defense unique to these charges is arguing that you were not grossly negligent. Even if the state can prove you were intoxicated at the time of the crash, you could avoid a conviction on this charge if you can show your actions were not grossly negligent. You could still face other manslaughter charges in this case, however.
Contact a Los Angeles Gross Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney
One bad decision could change the course of your life forever. That said, there is a subjective element to vehicular manslaughter charges that can lead prosecutors to overcharging the offense when it is not warranted.
At the Sigal Law Group, our team is experienced in taking on these charges and fighting vigorously for our clients. To discuss our approach to these cases, contact the Sigal Law Group right away to schedule a free consultation.