VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER IN CALIFORNIA – PC 192(C)
Under California Penal Code Section 192(c), the crime of vehicular manslaughter is defined as driving a vehicle in a negligent or unlawful manner and thereby causing the death of another human being.
Each of the above terms has a definition, as some of the incidents where someone’s driving is the factual cause of another person’s death are not punishable as manslaughter. While manslaughter is a form of homicide, it is not murder due to mitigating factors
Generally, the killing of another human is manslaughter and not murder when the following apply:
- The defendant acted in the heat of passion;
- Under an unreasonable belief of self-defense, or;
- Without intending to kill anyone;
- But without wanting disregard for the value of human life.
Penal Code Section 192(c) presents a specific scenario for vehicular manslaughter, which is a common crime in America.
ORDINARY NEGLIGENCE VS GROSS NEGLIGENCE
California law describes a driver acting with ordinary negligence when the driver is:
- Inattentive, or
- Committing an error in judgment
Contrarily, gross negligence is more serious conduct than ordinary negligence which is reckless enough that a reasonable person would expect a high risk of death or great bodily injury to result. Another way of looking at this is that a driver engaging in otherwise felonious conduct is likely engaging in grossly negligent conduct.
However, a driver engaged in conduct which might be a traffic infraction (such as speeding) is likely engaged in ordinarily negligent conduct.
FACTORS NEEDED TO BE CONVICTED UNDER PC 192(c)
For the prosecutor to convict you for violating California Penal Code 192(c), the prosecutor must prove all elements of the crime:
- While driving the vehicle, you committed a misdemeanor crime or infraction or lawful act in an unlawful manner, and;
- Your act was dangerous to human life under the circumstances, and;
- You committed the act with ordinary or gross negligence, and;
- Your act caused the death of another person.
You can also be convicted of PC 192(c) if the passenger in your car is killed due to your conduct.
PC192(c) VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER PENALTIES
One of the largest factors in determining punishment relies on the distinction between ordinary and gross negligence. Certain crimes in California are described as “wobblers,” meaning they can be filed by the prosecutor as either a felony or misdemeanor.
If a defendant acts with ordinary negligence, Penal Code 192(c) is always a misdemeanor and punishable by a maximum of one year in the county jail or a fine up to $1,000.
However, a grossly negligent defendant can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony in the discretion of the prosecutor. If the prosecutor elects to file as a misdemeanor, the maximum punishment remains one year in county jail. On the other hand, a felony PC 192(c) punishment can include two, four, or six years in the California state prison or a fine up to $10,000. Additionally, the collateral consequences of felony convictions also apply, such as the loss of gun rights.
PROVING DEFENDANT CAUSED THE DEATH OF ANOTHER
Regardless of ordinary or gross negligence allegations, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s riving caused the death of another person. California’s definition of causation in this context draws from common law concepts of proximate cause, which is different from actual or factual cause, by incorporating concepts of reasonableness and attenuation.
In car accidents it may be possible to say that “but for” the defendant driving the car, the accident would not have happened and therefore the defendant caused the accident. However, this does not paint the entire picture, because even thought the defendant may have actually caused the accident, other forces or causes may have contributed that were out of the defendant’s control and should absolve the defendant of responsibility.
Therefore, under Penal Code Section 192(c), only defendants who directly cause the death of another person, or whose actions naturally and probably resulted in the death of another person, may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
RELATED CALIFORNIA OFFENSES TO PENAL CODE 192(c)
- PC 187 – DUI Watson murder (second-degree)
- PC 187 – murder
- PC 191.5 – Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
- PC 191.5(a) – Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
HOW TO COMBAT A VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER CHARGE
Our criminal defense team is specially equipped with varying strategies and expertise to help reduce or dismiss your charges. Such strategies that we may employ are:
- You did not act negligently;
- Your negligence was not the cause of death;
- You were not the driver of the vehicle.
There is also the possibility we could argue that you were not acting with ordinary or gross negligence while driving. Alternatively, we can oppose the prosecutor’s evidence to show the prosecution cannot prove your negligence was the actual cause of the victim’s death. In some cases, accident reconstruction expert witnesses are used. Of course, the specific details and facts of your accident will need to be examined in order to determine the best strategy.
The crime of vehicular manslaughter under PC 192(c) is a serious offense with the potential for six years in state prison on the first offense. If you or someone you know is under investigation for, has been charged with, or has been arrested for a violation of PC 192(c), contact our experienced team of lawyers.