(1) …[D]riving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
(2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.
Penal Code 192(c) deals with all forms of vehicular manslaughter that are not related to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Normally, DUI deaths are charged under an entirely different law, PC 191.5 or “DUI vehicular manslaughter.”
There are some cases, however, where a suspected DUI-related death could be treated as ordinary vehicular manslaughter. This typically involves cases where the prosecutor lacks the evidence to prove that you were under the influence when the accident happened. They may offer vehicular manslaughter as a plea deal if you plead guilty—but this is seldom a good deal to take.
What counts as vehicular manslaughter?
Not every traffic death (or DUI death) is manslaughter. It’s only manslaughter if you were also breaking the law or driving in an unsafe way when the accident happened. This is known as negligence. In other words, if you were speeding aggressively and caused an accident that killed someone, it could be charged as manslaughter; if you were driving safely and lawfully—intoxicated or not—it probably won’t be.
PC 192 also distinguishes between two kinds of negligence:
- Vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence, which is a misdemeanor and carries up to a year in jail; and
- Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, which can be either a felony or a misdemeanor, and carries much tougher penalties including prison time.
Is a vehicular manslaughter charge better than a DUI manslaughter charge?
Not usually. Do not be fooled if the prosecutor offers you this “deal”—you need to consult a lawyer. The sentences for regular vehicular manslaughter and DUI manslaughter are almost the same, and taking the deal means you cannot fight the charge in court. It can be a life-altering decision.
There are some senses in which regular vehicular manslaughter is a “better” deal. For example, it won’t come with mandatory alcohol/drug treatment, and it doesn’t count as a prior DUI for future charges. But these advantages are usually inconsequential compared to the potential jail or prison time. A good lawyer will only advise you to accept this deal if it comes with a clear reduction in sentence or downgrades the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
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