Here’s What You Need to Know
California has two DUI manslaughter laws, described under Penal Code 191.5(a) and 191.5(b). The difference between these two laws is:
- 191.5(a) involves “gross negligence” on your part. This means you acted in a way that you obviously knew could put others at risk.
- 191.5(b) involves only “ordinary negligence,” which means you were simply careless.
191.5(a) is the more serious of the two charges, and is known as Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated or Gross DUI Manslaughter. It is a felony offense and carries very severe consequences—it is only one step below a murder charge. Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know if you were charged with Gross DUI Manslaughter. If you have been charged with 191.5(b), the “ordinary negligence” version, see our complete analysis here.
What counts as Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
The legal definition of this charge is complicated. There’s a good reason for this—manslaughter charges are very similar to murder charges, but the penalties are less serious, because manslaughter does not imply an intention to kill. At the same time, manslaughter is much more serious than a death that happened by sheer bad luck. So the law has to be highly specific to tell these situations apart.
For your DUI accident to count as Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, all of the following things must have occurred:
- You caused the death of another human being.
- You did it with no malice aforethought. This means that you didn’t show any conscious or intentional disregard for human life.
- You were driving a vehicle when it happened.
- You driving while intoxicated. This could mean your blood alcohol content was over the legal limit of .08%, or it could mean you had a lower amount of alcohol or drugs in your system but were physically or mentally impaired by them.
Additionally, one of the following things has to be true:
- The reason the person died was because you broke some other traffic or safety law (besides DUI) and did it with gross negligence, or
- You did something not technically illegal but which you knew could be dangerous, and did it with gross negligence
This complicated set of rules can seem intimidating. But the fact that they are so complicated is good for you as the defendant. That’s because the prosecutor has to prove every single one of the steps above. If they cannot prove all of them, there are no grounds to convict you of this charge. Many DUI defendants charged with Gross Vehicular Manslaughter can end up negotiating a plea bargain—a less serious charge—or even win their case outright.
What is “gross negligence”?
Whether you are guilty of Gross DUI Manslaughter depends a lot on the difference between “gross negligence” and “ordinary negligence.”
Ordinary negligence means you were careless for a moment, or had a simple lapse in judgement. For example, if you are driving home and you glance at your phone for directions, thus taking your eyes off the road, this is negligence.
Gross negligence means something more serious. In gross negligence, you do something anybody should have known would be dangerous and put people at risk. For example, driving up onto a crowded sidewalk is gross negligence. So is driving past a school at 50 mph. These aren’t just simple mistakes; they’re clearly risky.
What is an example of Gross DUI Manslaughter?
Here is a simple example:
Kanye is out having drinks with friends on his 21st birthday. His friends celebrate by buying him shots, and by the time Kanye leaves he has a hard time walking straight. He gets into his car to drive home.
On the way, he accelerates more and more to make it through green lights. Soon he’s going over 70 mph in a residential neighborhood. He is also swerving from side to side. Kanye is experiencing difficulty focusing on his surroundings and does not notice a bicyclist riding along the side of the road. Kanye clips the bicyclist, throwing him headfirst into a tree. The bicyclist dies.
Kanye would be guilty of Gross DUI Manslaughter for several reasons:
- He was clearing driving under the influence
- He broke another traffic law, speeding, and this is what caused the cyclist’s death—a slower car may not have killed him
- His speeding was so excessive, 70 mph in a residential area, that any reasonable person could tell it posed a threat to others; it was gross negligence
What are the penalties for Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
The penalties for this offense include:
- 4, 6, or 10 years in the state prison
- 15 years to life in prison if you have any prior vehicular manslaughter convictions, or if you have two or more prior DUI convictions
- You must pay restitution to the victim’s family
- You will carry felony status, which restricts your rights and can affect your employment, among other factors
These are in addition to other DUI penalties such as alcohol/drug treatment, license suspension and mandatory DUI classes.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter also counts as a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes system. This means you could get severe extra penalties if it is your third strike, including the possibility of 25 years to life in prison.
What are my chances of beating a Gross Vehicular Manslaughter DUI?
You need to fight the charges, and your chances are greater if you have an experienced DUI defense lawyer. It is possible to beat a Gross DUI Manslaughter charge and it happens all the time.
Your lawyer will start your defense by investigating exactly what happened including:
- How the accident itself happened
- Whether the victim did anything illegal or reckless that may have contributed to the accident
- Whether officers arrested you legally and whether your rights were violated
- Evaluating how the breath test, blood test or urine test was carried out and, if possible, asking the judge to throw out the test results
Your lawyer does not have to prove that you were sober. All they have to do is show that any one of the requirements for Gross Vehicular Manslaughter wasn’t met. If you didn’t break any other laws besides DUI, the charge may not stick. Likewise, if you broke laws but were not “grossly negligent,” it may be impossible to convict you. The result can be a deal with a much less serious charge or, in some cases, even winning your case.
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) 896-2724 and get your free consultation today.