The majority of motor vehicle accidents occur without intent or warning—such as when you fail to notice a motorcyclist in your lane or run a stoplight without meaning to. Yet there are times when motorists are charged with a crime—even when they did not mean to cause the accident. When this occurs, a vehicular manslaughter lawyer in San Jose may be the only thing standing in between you—and a lengthy prison sentence.
California's Vehicular Manslaughter Laws are covered under Penal Code 192 (c) PC. You can be charged with vehicular manslaughter if you committed an unlawful act while driving a vehicle, someone was killed as a result of your act, and that act was committed with negligence. In contrast, if you were in the process of committing a felony at the time, then you would be charged with vehicular felony murder (Penal Code 187 PC), not vehicular manslaughter.
John was driving home from college one night and texting his girlfriend. While he was texting, he ran his car off the road and accidentally hit a jogger. The jogger was killed instantly and John was arrested. Because John was acting negligently at the time of the accident, but he was not committing a felony, he could be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
Vehicular Manslaughter is a Wobbler
In the State of California, the prosecution has the choice to charge you with either a felony or a misdemeanor—depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident and your prior criminal history. If you acted in gross negligence, then you may well find yourself charged with a felony. If your acts were determined to be simple ordinary negligence, then you will face misdemeanor charges.
Vehicular manslaughter falls within the greater crime of “manslaughter” in the California Penal Code. The state defines vehicular manslaughter as the driving of a vehicle during the commission of an unlawful act (not a felony act) with or without gross negligence resulting in the unlawful killing of a person without malice. Vehicular manner may also include the driving of a vehicle during the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with or without gross negligence. Either of these situations may lead to murder charges if it is shown that the defendant exhibited a conscious disregard for life, leading to a finding of malice.
Additionally, vehicular manslaughter may also include the driving of a vehicle where the collision or accident was knowingly caused for financial gain (through fraudulent claims) and resulted in the death of a person. A person who caused a death in this manner of vehicular manslaughter may also face murder charges in San Jose. Vehicular manslaughter may additionally include the operation of a vessel, including motorboats, and therefore the operator of such vessel will be subject to the same penalties and prosecution.
Vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to six years when the crime was committed with gross negligence, up to 1 year in county jail when committed without gross negligence, and up to ten years in prison when the crash was knowingly caused for financial gain.
Vehicular manslaughter additionally includes the commission of manslaughter in a vehicle while intoxicated. Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is punishable by one year in county jail or up to 4 years in prison, depending on the facts of the case. A person who has prior related convictions may face life in prison upon a conviction for vehicular manslaughter.
Differences Between Gross Negligence and Ordinary Negligence
Whether you are charged with a felony or a misdemeanor depends largely on whether the prosecution believes your actions constituted gross negligence or ordinary negligence. By definition, ordinary negligence means that you failed to use reasonable care and that caused harm to another. Running a stop sign, texting while driving, and even speeding could be considered ordinary negligence.
In contrast, gross negligence is more than ordinary negligence and occurs when a driver drives in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or bodily injury. Driving 50mph over the speed limit, drag racing, and driving the wrong way in traffic are all examples of actions that could be considered gross negligence.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter
A conviction for a vehicular manslaughter as a felony can subject you to punishment in state prison for up to 6 years. Alternatively, if you set up an accident to file a fraudulent insurance claim and someone is killed because of your actions, you can face up to 10 years in state prison on a vehicular manslaughter charge.
If you are charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, you are facing serious penalties and consequences—in addition to now having a criminal record. Some professionals who are charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter may even lose their professional licenses as a result of their conviction. If you are convicted, you could face the following penalties and consequences:
- Up to 1 year in county jail
- Up to $1,000 fines
- Possible deportation
- Misdemeanor summary probation
- Loss of license for at least 3 years
- And more
Defenses Against Vehicular Manslaughter
When your actions have killed another, you may be dealing with a tremendous amount of grief and guilt. When police officers and prosecutors decide to charge you with vehicular manslaughter, you may also be afraid for your life, your family, and your future. When this occurs, an experienced San Jose vehicular manslaughter lawyer can help build a defense against these serious charges and protect your freedom.
It is difficult to prove negligence in many of these cases. Your defense attorney may be able to prove that while you did not make the best decisions behind the wheel, your actions do not constitute negligence. Failing to stop at a stop sign may not be negligence—but rather a simple driving error.
If you are charged with gross vehicular manslaughter (a felony), your lawyer may be able to argue that your actions were just ordinary negligence and have the charges reduced to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. This will keep you out of prison and free from having a felony criminal record.
If this is your first offense, your San Jose vehicular manslaughter lawyer may even be able to have the charges reduced or dismissed to avoid having a misdemeanor on your record. Your attorney can lobby the courts for probation in lieu of jail time, and if needed, your lawyer can even work to keep you from losing your professional license.
San Jose Vehicular Manslaughter Attorneys
At Ahmed & Sukaram, our vehicular manslaughter lawyers in San Jose have the experience and knowledge necessary to build a solid defense against charges of vehicular manslaughter. If you are charged with vehicular manslaughter in San Jose, Palo Alto, or anywhere in the San Francisco Bay Area, contact the dynamic legal team of Ahmed & Sukaram immediately. You are not alone—call Ahmed & Sukaram today at 1-408-217-8818 .