Jones Law | DUI & Criminal Defense | Fresno, CA

Vehicular Homicide/Manslaughter

Vehicular Homicide/Manslaughter

Crimes involving automobiles have become a specialty within criminal defense. An individual facing a charge of Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter should seek experienced legal counsel in this area of the law.

 Anyone facing a criminal charge will certainly be under stress, but such stress will be magnified if the crime involves a vehicular homicide or manslughter. A charge of vehicular homicide is one of the most devastating cases a person could face.  Almost 98% of individuals charged with such an offense have never been involved with any prior criminal proceedings. Almost 76% have never before had a moving traffic violation. As a result they are often completely bewildered at what is ahead for them. The victims of such cases are often known to the defendant. Sometimes they are family or friends who were killed in the defendant's car. Even if they are total strangers, the impact of knowing you have killed a person is overwhelming and debilitating. Not only will the defendant be facing the very real possibility of state prison; but they will also have to live with the knowledge that their actions may have caused death to another. Often, this burden is overwhelming; and because of this, the understanding and sensitivity of legal counsel should be an essential element in the attorney-client relationship.

California Vehicular Homicide

Homicide is broadly defined in California as the killing of a human being by another human being. Vehicular Homicide prosecutions arise out of situations in which a motor vehicle is the instrumentality causing death.        

In California, as in most states, the crime of vehicular homicide has been defined by statute.

Vehicular homicide is the general description of the offense, but it is   defined in a number of different categories. And, under certain circumstances, a defendant could be faced with the charge of Second Degree murder if implied malice could be proved. 

The Legal Elements Under Law

Vehicular homicide in California is defined in the California Vehicle Code as Vehicular Manslaughter. (Penal Code Section 192)  A killing of a human being resulting from the use of a vehicle may constitute either Second Degree Murder, under Penal Code Section 187, or Vehicular Manslaughter, under Penal Code Section 192. The majority of time it will result in a vehicular manslaughter charge rather than a second degree murder charge.

 In order for a charge of Second Degree murder to stand, there must be an element of malice, in order for the offense to constitute murder. Usually, the element of malice can be implied by providing evidence of defendant's awareness and conscious disregard of life threatening risk to others. There are a number of cases that set out circumstances that the court will recognize as factors that would legally establish implied malice to support the charge of second degree murder in a vehicular homicide.

 For the most part however, the majority of vehicular homicides will be charged as vehicular manslaughter cases. Here a defendant's unlawful driving is regarded as criminal negligence. The criminal intent required for the crime is imputed and the offense is viewed as an involuntary manslaughter and then in turn defined as an involuntary vehicular manslaughter.

These crimes of involuntary vehicular manslaughter are then further defined under the California Vehicle Code as Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence (Penal Code Section 192 (c) (1); Vehicular Manslaughter Without Gross Negligence (Penal Code Section 192 (c) (2); Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (Penal Code Section 192 (c) (3) and Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (Penal Code Section 191.5 (a)

All of the above offenses have clear defined elements, which must be proved in order to sustain a conviction of that specific offense.

The California statutes defining the above offenses are set out below. A great body of case law has developed which guides the court in applying the law as it relates to these offenses.

  • Penal Code Section 192 - Manslaughter. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.
  • Penal Code Section 192 (c) - Vehicular Manslaughter

(1)  Except as provided in Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

  • Penal Code Section 192 (c) -Vehicular Manslaughter

(2) Except as provided in paragraph (3), driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

  • Penal Code Section 192 (c) -Vehicular Manslaughter

(3) Driving a vehicle in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code and in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle  Code and in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.

  • Penal Code Section 191.5 (a) -Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated 

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and 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 which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

The Punishment

The punishment for convictions under the above statutes of course depends upon which violation is found to be true and the defendant's prior record as well as any additional enhancements that the prosecutor may have charged which were found true by the court or jury.

  • A conviction for 192 (c) (1) is punishable either by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years.
  • A conviction for 192 (2) is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year.
  • A conviction for 192 (c) (3) is punishable either by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for 16 months, two, or four years.
  • A conviction for 191.5 (a) is punishable either by imprisonment in the state prison for four, six, or ten years.
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