Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony in California, depending on the severity of your case. In today’s blog, we discuss the elements of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and the potential penalties for such an act, as well as possible ways you might defend against such a charge.
What Is Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
Under California law, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (also referred to as ordinary negligence) is composed of the following elements:
- Driving a vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs
- While doing so, also committing another misdemeanor, California infraction, or otherwise lawful act that might cause death
- Committing that misdemeanor, infraction, or other act with ordinary negligence
- That negligent conduct caused the death of another person
You are considered to have driven while intoxicated if you either:
- Violated California’s “driving under the influence” law (Vehicle Code 23152(a))
- Drove with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of 0.08 or higher
- Drove under the influence of drugs or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs
- Drove with a BAC of 0.05 or higher when under the age of 21
Be aware that in cases of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, it is not the DUI itself that is the unlawful act or act likely to cause death; rather, there must be another unlawful act or lawful act that could cause death in addition to the fact of driving intoxicated or high.
Note that you are only guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if you act with ordinary negligence. Read our previous blog post on different types of vehicular manslaughter charges to learn more about other vehicular homicide scenarios.
Recall that ordinary negligence means an individual failed to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to someone else. You behave negligently when you either:
- Do something a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation
- Fail to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation
You can only be convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if your negligent conduct actually causes another person’s death, such that the death is the direct, natural, and probable consequence of your conduct. However, note that your actions do need to be the only cause of death; the merely need to be one substantial factor causing it.
Penalties and Sentencing
Ordinary negligence vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler offense in California, which means that it may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the offense, and the defendant’s criminal history.
If you are charged with ordinary negligence vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as a misdemeanor, you could face:
- Misdemeanor probation
- Up to 1 year in county jail
- A fine of up to one $1,000
If your offense is charged as a felony, however, you could face the following harsher penalties:
- Felony probation
- 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years in prison
- A fine of up to $10,000
Your license will also be suspended for 1 year following a felony charge, but you will not lose your license if you are convicted of a misdemeanor. If you are found to have driven during the period when your license is revoked, you will face additional charges for driving on a suspended license in California.
Defense Options Against a Charge
If you’ve been charged with vehicular homicide while intoxicated, you have a few defense tactics. You argue:
- You were not actually intoxicated at the time of the accident
- You did not act with negligence
- Your negligence didn’t cause the victim’s death
To argue against the claim that you were intoxicated, you could use standard DUI defense strategies, such as disproving the evidence that you appeared to be under the influence. For example, fatigue, illness, or just the shock of an accident can often mimic the symptoms of being drunk or high. You could also challenge the validity of your blood or breath test results either due to improper procedure during the test or arrest (e.g. police misconduct).
Let Hutton & Khalaf Fight For Your Case
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a serious charge that could result in significant jail time and fines, as well as the loss of driving privileges. If you have been charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, contact an experienced attorney immediately. Our attorneys at Hutton & Khalaf have significant experience in DUI and vehicular manslaughter litigation, and we can efficiently evaluate your case to determine the next steps for your defense.
Contact us at Hutton & Khalaf today to schedule your free initial consultation.