Yes, in many cases DUI manslaughter is charged as a felony. But not always.
First, it depends on which specific law you were charged under. The paperwork you were given by police after your arrest will state the specific charge. It will be either:
- California PC 191.5(a), DUI manslaughter with “gross negligence,” which is always a felony, or
- California PC 191.5(b), DUI manslaughter with “ordinary negligence.” This charge can be pursued as either a felony or a misdemeanor. It’s the prosecutor’s choice.
The difference between these two laws is minor on paper, but significant for the impact they have on your life. Both laws state that you not only killed someone while driving under the influence, but that you were behaving negligently while doing so. The “negligence” requirement means you did something careless or illegal beyond simply driving under the influence. In other words, these laws claim that you:
- Are guilty of DUI,
- Were doing something else wrong while driving,
- And that these factors led to someone’s death.
The difference is how wrong the “something else wrong” was.
If you were speeding slightly, or weaved a little into the other lane, that could be “ordinary negligence” and it’s up to the prosecutor whether to pursue the felony charge or just the regular misdemeanor version.
If you were speeding excessively, driving the wrong way on the highway, or veered up onto the sidewalk, that’s very reckless. It would count as “gross negligence” and you will face the felony charge.
How does the prosecutor decide whether to treat DUI manslaughter as a felony?
In an ideal world, they would base their decision only on how severe or flagrant your recklessness was. In the real world, however, prosecutors have to win cases. They will pursue the felony charge any time they believe they have enough evidence to prove their case. If they’re worried they can’t prove a felony case, they will take the easier route and pursue the misdemeanor charge.
It matters which charge the prosecutor chooses. The differences between the felony and misdemeanor versions of 191.5(b), for example, include:
- Facing a year in jail vs. 2+ years in prison
- A fine of $1,000 vs. a fine of up to $10,000
- Whether you will carry felon status, which restricts your rights and affects your career
The penalties for Gross DUI Manslaughter, 191.5(a), are even more severe.
You Can Win Your DUI Manslaughter Case
No matter what specific law you were charged with, if your DUI is being viewed as manslaughter you need professional legal help immediately. It is possible to beat a felony DUI manslaughter charge or get it downgraded to a much less serious offense. Do not let your DUI charge ruin your life.
Have you been charged with DUI? We can connect you with an experienced Los Angeles DUI lawyer and get you a FREE consultation. Fill out the form to the right or call (310) 862-0199 and get your free consultation today.