Vehicular Manslaughter in Long Beach, California
If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and get behind the wheel of your car in Long Beach, CA there are several charges you can face, if something goes wrong. Not only can you be pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI); you can also face other charges in several situations. The most severe of these other charges is if you are involved in a car accident that kills another person. This can lead to a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, a serious offense in the Long Beach, California.
Being represented by a skilled Long Beach DUI defense lawyer if you are facing charges for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. Los Angeles DUI-defense attorney and Long Beach drug defense lawyer William S. Kroger can help.
Charges for Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Not all DUI cases in Long Beach, California begin with a traffic stop and a breath test. Some begin with a car crash. If this accident is fatal, police will likely require the drivers involved in the crash to take a breath test to determine if they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If your breath test suggests that your blood alcohol content (BAC) was at or above California's legal limit of 0.08%, or if a police officer thinks that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you can get arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which violates California Penal Code 191.5(b).
Definition of Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle.
Elements of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated In Long Beach, CA
Prosecutors have the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you violated California Penal Code 191.5(b). This requires showing four things:
- You were driving a vehicle while you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- You broke a rule of the road or made a driving error
- That driving error or traffic violation was the result of ordinary, but not gross, negligence
- The error or violation caused the death of someone else
Because it is up to the prosecutor to prove each one of these things, there are plenty of opportunities to defend against an accusation that you committed vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol in Long Beach
The first thing that prosecutors need to show is that you were driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in violation of California law.
In many cases, this involves showing that you had a BAC at or over the state's legal limit of 0.08%. However, you can also be found to have violated drunk driving law if your BAC was under the legal limit, but police officers are convinced that you were intoxicated. Additionally, if you were driving a commercial vehicle or underage, the legal BAC limit that you are supposed to abide by are lower, making it far easier for law enforcement to satisfy this element of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Breaking a Rule of the Road or Making a Driving Mistake
Second, law enforcement needs to prove that you either violated a traffic law or made a driving mistake. Examples of a traffic law violation include anything that breaks a specific provision in California's Traffic Code, like:
- Not stopping at a stop sign
- Running a red light
- Crossing a double yellow line into the lane of oncoming traffic
Driving mistakes are things that might not explicitly break a California traffic law, but that are nevertheless things that a driver should not do on the road. These include driving while distracted or turning into traffic without checking for oncoming cyclists.
Third, law enforcement has to show that the traffic violation or mistake was the result of your negligence, in order to move their case for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated forward.
This is a relatively low standard and is meant to reserve more culpable conduct – driving mistakes or traffic violations from gross negligence – for another statute that carries higher penalties, Penal Code 191.5(a).
Causing Someone Else's Death
Finally, the prosecutor has to show that the negligent driving mistake or rule violation that you made while under the influence was the cause of someone else's death.
Establishing causation is not always easy, especially when the crash was a complicated one or involved more than two vehicles. In many cases, this is where a skilled Long Beach criminal defense lawyer can make a big impact. By showing that your conduct was not actually the reason for the death of the other person – either by showing that someone else was responsible, or by proving that your mistake was too far removed from the crash to be its actual cause – your lawyer can raise effective defenses to a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated In Long Beach, California
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler in California, meaning that it can be pursued either as a misdemeanor or as a felony offense. Which offense level you are charged with will determine the severity of the penalties that you can face, should you get convicted.
You may also be required to install an Ignition Interlock Device in your vehicle.
Felony or Misdemeanor?
Many charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated are pursued as misdemeanors. However, the final decision of whether to pursue misdemeanor or felony charges lies at the discretion of the prosecutor. Their decision will depend on the circumstances of the incident and your criminal background.
For example, drivers who have a DUI conviction in the past will be more likely to face felony charges for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, as would drivers who caused the fatal crash by doing something especially – though not grossly – negligent.
Penalties for Misdemeanor Charges
If you end up being charged and convicted for a misdemeanor offense of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you would face the following penalties:
- Summary probation
- Up to one year in jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Restitution to the victims of the crash
- Alcohol or drug counseling
- Community service
Penalties for Felony Charges of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
If the prosecutor ends up pursuing felony charges for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, those penalties increase, substantially:
- Formal probation
- Between 16 months and four years in jail, plus six more years in jail if there are survivors of the crash who suffered great bodily injury
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Restitution to the victims of the crash
- A suspension of your driver's license for one year
Legal Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated In Long Beach, California
Because there are a lot of elements that law enforcement needs to prove in order to convict you for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under California Penal Code 191.5(b), there are also a lot of potential legal defenses that you can use, as well. Of course, the defense strategy that is right for you depends on the precise circumstances of your case, and you should consult a lawyer to decide how best to fight against the charge. However, there are some common defenses that are routinely raised against charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Challenging Intoxication Levels
If you were deemed to be under the influence of drugs or were accused of being intoxicated despite not being above the legal BAC limit, then the evidence that you broke California's DUI laws will largely rely on the testimony of the arresting officer. Challenging this testimony by pointing out inconsistencies in the officer's recollection of the event can undermine the prosecutor's case.
Lack of Proximate Cause
One of the elements that law enforcement needs to prove is that the driving mistake or traffic violation that you made was the ultimate cause of the death of the other person. Piecing together exactly what happened in the lead up to the accident, though, often reveals that the other driver was acting negligently, as well. If their poor conduct is enough to break the chain of causation between your negligent act and the fatal crash, it can doom the prosecutor's case that you committed vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
No Driving Error
Similarly, you can also fight against a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated by arguing that you did not actually violate one of the rules of the road or make a mistake behind the wheel. This technique is similar to claiming that there was no proximate cause between your conduct and the fatal crash, in that you are arguing that the accident was not your fault. However, arguing that you were being perfectly safe on the road goes further than claiming that your mistake was not the real cause of the crash.
Long Beach DUI-Defense Lawyer William S. Kroger
A charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a very serious one, with convictions that can drastically impair your future. Defending against an accusation is crucial.
William S. Kroger is a DUI-defense attorney in Los Angeles. If you have been accused of being under the influence and negligently causing a crash that killed someone else, his legal representation can make a huge difference in your case. Contact him online or call his Los Angeles law office at (323) 655-5700.