A fatal car accident is a traumatic experience for everyone involved, and charges of vehicular manslaughter only add to the emotional toll. After such an upsetting incident, it is crucial to know your options for fighting these serious charges.

These charges don’t have to have lasting effects on your life and livelihood. Peter Blair has spent years fighting for the freedom and reputation of San Diego residents, and he is ready to work with you to develop a solid defense strategy. If you are facing charges of vehicular manslaughter, contact The Law Office of Peter Blair. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation and explore your options.

Legal Definitions

Manslaughter is defined by California Penal Code 192 as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” This is a major distinction from murder, which is the “unlawful killing of a human being with malicious aforethought.” In other words, if you did not have the conscious intention of hurting or killing someone, it is generally classified as manslaughter rather than murder.

Vehicular manslaughter is addressed in Penal Code 192(c). The charge of vehicular manslaughter applies if one of the following situations is true:

  • You commit an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony) with negligence while driving, leading to someone’s death
  • You commit a lawful act that might produce death with negligence while driving, leading to someone’s death

In order to be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter, the driver must have taken some sort of action while driving that caused the death. This can be an unlawful act, such as speeding, texting while driving, swerving unnecessarily out of ones lane, or failing to obey traffic signals. However, this can also include lawful actions if they are done in a way that is likely to cause death. For example, changing lanes in and of itself is a lawful act, but if the driver fails to check his mirrors and hits a bicyclist while changing lanes, it can qualify as vehicular manslaughter.

Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

Penalties for vehicular manslaughter can vary based on the level of negligence involved.

If a driver acts with “gross negligence,” he or she makes an extreme departure from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation to prevent harm. If the conduct is determined to be gross negligence, vehicular manslaughter is determined to be a “wobbler.” In these cases, the driver could face either:

  • Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter: up to one year in county jail
  • Felony vehicular manslaughter: 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years in prison

If the driver acted with only ordinary negligence, he or she will face misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, punishable by up to one year in county jail.

Legal Defenses

When dealing with charges of vehicular manslaughter, there are certain legal defenses to consider. Acceptable legal defenses include:

  • You did not act with negligence. In order for vehicular manslaughter charges to apply, you must have committed some sort of negligent act while behind the wheel. Driving often requires you to make quick decisions and sudden movements, and even if the decision turns out to be the wrong one, it does not necessarily rise to the level of negligence. If the prosecutor can not show how you acted outside the bounds of a reasonable person, you could avoid conviction for vehicular manslaughter.
  • You acted with ordinary negligence, rather than “gross negligence.” While this may not help you avoid manslaughter charges altogether, you could avoid the more serious penalties of gross vehicular manslaughter. If you, with the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney, can prove that you did not act with extreme disregard or negligence for those around you, your charge could be downgraded.
  • Your actions were not the direct cause of the victim’s death. While a prosecutor may be able to prove that you acted with negligence, there could be other circumstances involved that actually caused the death. For example, say you were changing lanes, but the driver in the car next to you was texting and not paying attention. If the other driver is killed in the accident, you could argue that it was not your lane change that caused the driver’s death, but rather his distracted driving.
  • You acted reasonable under emergency circumstances. While driving, certain circumstances can arise that require immediate action. If you made a sudden swerve to avoid an animal in the road or an unsafe part of the roadway, leading to a collision, the entirety of the blame cannot be placed on you. In an emergency situation, drivers are simply expected to use the judgment and care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation; if you did so, your actions did not rise to the level of negligence.

It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list of legal defenses. Consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best way to determine the appropriate defense for your unique situation.

Related Offenses

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is addressed in Penal Code 191.5. If someone drives under the influence of drugs or alcohol and commits a non-felony offense (i.e. speeding, failing to stay in one lane, etc.) that leads to someone’s death, he or she could be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If the conduct is determined to be gross negligence, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony punishable by 4, 6, or 10 years in prison. If the conduct is determined to be ordinary negligence, it can be charged as a misdemeanor (up to 1 year in county jail) or a felony (16 months, 2 years, or 4 years in prison) under Penal Code 191.5.

Intentionally causing a car accident for the purpose of insurance fraud (or other monetary gain) is addressed in Penal Code 550(a). If this accident leads to someone’s death, you could face murder or manslaughter charges, depending on the circumstances and the prosecuting attorney involved.

Fleeing the scene of a fatal accident is addressed in Penal Code 192.5(e). If a driver commits vehicular manslaughter and then flees the scene, it is punishable by an additional five years in prison. This sentence enhancement can only apply if the driver has been found guilty on the initial charges of vehicular manslaughter and has admitted to fleeing the scene or was found by police to have fled the scene.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Don’t let vehicular manslaughter charges affect your life for years to come. The best way to combat these accusations is to act quickly and prepare a solid defense at the very start, and criminal defense attorney Peter Blair is prepared to do just that. With years of experience defending clients in San Diego County, Mr. Blair is committed to defending you and your reputation.

The Law Office of Peter Blair is ready to work with you to develop a sound defense strategy and navigate the complex court system. If you are facing charges of vehicular manslaughter and want the help of a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney, contact The Law Office of Peter Blair. Call (619) 357-4977 or contact us online to schedule your free, confidential consultation.