It’s the scenario we all hope never happens—and one that in truth should never happen.
Someone has a lapse in judgment, gets behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or another substance, gets into an accident—and another person dies as a result.
Aside from the overwhelming sense of loss and guilt of knowing his/her actions have caused a death, now the intoxicated or impaired driver may be facing very serious felony criminal charges on top of the DUI.
In a perfect world, you should never find yourself in this situation, but if you are charged in California with a DUI involving a fatality, what can you expect? What, exactly, are you facing?
Three Possible Charges
By California law, when a DUI results in someone’s death, you may be charged with one of three serious felony crimes in addition to your DUI. In order of severity, they are:
- Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated;
- Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated; and
- DUI Murder
Let’s examine each of these in more detail.
Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated
The lightest of the three possible charges, Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated is described in California Penal Code Section 191.5(b) PC as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle…but without gross negligence.”
In other words, the only factor separating this charge from Gross Vehicular Manslaughter is the degree of negligence involved. If your actions in your DUI case appeared to be an arbitrary lapse of caution (ordinary negligence), rather than a flagrant disregard for the safety of others (gross negligence), the prosecution may choose to charge you with the lesser crime of Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated.
Proving Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated
To prove this crime in court, the prosecution must effectively demonstrate four things:
- You had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or greater;
- You violated some other law in the course of your DUI (for example, speeding or running a stop sign);
- You acted with “ordinary negligence”; and
- Someone died as a result of your actions.
What Are the Penalties?
Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated is a “wobbler” under California law, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and your previous criminal history.
If convicted of the misdemeanor, you could face stiff fines, community service, mandated alcohol counseling, restitution for the victim’s family and up to a year in county jail.
For the felony, you could face up to 4 years in prison (plus another 6 if other people sustained serious bodily injury), plus a fine of $10,000 and victim restitution.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated
The second-most severe offense, Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, is covered in California Penal Code Section 191.5(a) PC. It’s effectively the same charge as Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, with the following exceptions:
(a) it alleges “gross negligence” versus “ordinary negligence”;
(b) it is always a felony; and
(c) the penalties for conviction are more severe.
To best understand the difference between these two charges, let’s discuss the legal differences between ordinary and gross negligence.
Ordinary negligence refers to a failure to use reasonable caution, while gross negligence alludes to a conscious disregard for potential risk—typically meaning something that likely will result in another’s injury or death—and it is something that others could easily identify as reckless.
For example, if you were driving aggressively, speeding or swerving between lanes at the time of the crash, you would be much more likely to be charged with Gross Vehicular Manslaughter. This would especially be true if your bad driving took place in a crowded residential or school zone where the risk of harm is greatest to members of society.
However, if your accident occurred as a result of a momentary distraction (e.g., failing to notice a red light or a brief moment of looking down at your car radio), it could be argued that you were not acting with ordinary negligence for a moment and you might be charged with the lesser offense.
Proving Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated
To demonstrate this elevated charge in court, prosecutors must begin by proving you were above the minimum legal BAC limit, violated another ordinance or statute and caused someone’s death. Then, the prosecutors must provide ample evidence that your actions were grossly negligent as opposed to an ordinary level of negligence.
What are the penalties?
If convicted of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated, you may face fines of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Call Fiumara & Milligan Law Today for Help
Regardless of the severity of the possible charges or penalties, the most important takeaway to remember is that driving while impaired, intoxicated or under the influence of any substance always puts other lives in danger, whether the prosecutor claims you knew the risks.
When you seriously consider how even one of these charges could ruin your life (not to mention the lives of others), you will understand that even a simple DUI conviction could lead to devastating consequences.
Why face these alone—CALL US 24/7!
If you do find yourself charged with someone’s death due to a DUI, don’t face the charges alone; let us help you navigate these treacherous waters.
Call Fiumara and Milligan Law Today at 707-571-8600 or 415-492-4507.
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