A charge of vehicular manslaughter is a serious crime, and is treated by the law as such. Under California law, Vehicular Homicide or Manslaughter is charged under Penal Code section [XX].
Vehicular manslaughter can be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony. Street racers, drunk drivers, drivers without licenses, and persons with no criminal record at all have been, and can be, charged with vehicular homicide.
Vehicular homicide is a crime in which a person operating a vehicle in a reckless or an unsafe (criminally negligent) manner unintentionally causes the death of at least one person. The keyword there is unintentionally, because if you intended to kill someone with your vehicle then it becomes vehicular homicide.
Also, for persons convicted of DUI in California, as part of the sentencing or plea, every person is read a “Watson Advisement”, which warns that if a person is driving drunk, and causes death to another in the future while DUI, the crime can be charged as murder. That advisement can be used to file murder charges from a DUI death case.
The punishment for vehicular manslaughter in California can vary depending on whether the court finds negligence or gross negligence. If you are found to be just negligent the crime is classified as a misdemeanor and punishable with up to one year in jail. If you are found to be grossly negligent you can be charged with a felony with a maximum of six years in a state prison. Obviously a felony is worse, but as far as your criminal history, not any one of these charges look good when someone checks your criminal background.
When you are facing vehicular manslaughter charges, whether you think you were at fault or not, you need to seek private counsel. Both of these crimes are serious and can turn your life into a nightmare.
There are in general three major components of a legal defense to these charges:
- Show evidence that you did not act with negligence of any sort, or point out the lack of evidence on the part of the prosecutor;
- There were other circumstances that caused the death, not your negligence;
- A sudden emergency caused you to become negligent and you acted as any reasonable person would.
If you have a potential case pending, for this type of case, it is important that you comply with law enforcement but that you do not give any kind of statements. Anything you say to law enforcement can be used against you and most likely will. Make sure that you know what you are being charged with and document evidence, and take notes of everything that happens, no matter how big or small. Anything can help you when it comes time to go to court. Make sure you discuss and provide your attorney with copies of all of your notes for use in defending your charges of vehicular manslaughter.