Here’s What You Need to Know
In California, if your DUI caused someone’s death, you could be charged under Penal Code 191.5, “Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.” There are two different versions of this charge, 191.5(a) and 191.5(b). The difference is:
- 191.5(a) involves “gross negligence” on your part, meaning you acted in an unreasonable and obviously unsafe way.
- 191.5(b) involves negligence on your part, but not gross negligence. It means you were careless.
191.5(b) is the lesser of the two charges, but it is still very serious, and it can be charged as either a misdemeanor criminal offense or a felony. If charged as a felony, the penalties are even more severe. In this article we’ll cover everything you need to know about 191.5(b), the “negligent” version of this charge. If you have been charged with 191.5(a), the “gross negligence” version, see our complete analysis here.
What counts as Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
The law has a complex definition for what counts as this kind of manslaughter. This is because manslaughter charges are similar to murder charges, but less serious, because there was no intention to kill a human being. Thus, the law uses a highly specific definition. We’ll look at each element of the definition below.
First, Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated that all of the following must have happened:
- You unlawfully caused the death of a human being
- You did it without malice, meaning your actions don’t imply any callous disregard for human life
- You did it while driving a vehicle
- You were intoxicated while driving the vehicle (this can mean your blood alcohol was .08% or higher, or it can simply mean you were impaired by alcohol or drugs, regardless of the actual level in your system)
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 without gross negligence, or
- You did something not technically illegal but which you knew could be dangerous, and did it without gross negligence
The fact that the definition of this charge is so complicated is actually very good for your case. It means that the prosecutor has to prove every single one of the elements above. If they cannot, you cannot be convicted of this charge. This means that many DUI defendants facing manslaughter charges can successfully strike a bargain for a lesser charge or even win their case.
What is the difference between negligence and gross negligence?
These are legal terms that are used to tell how careless someone was. In layman’s terms, a simple way to tell negligence from gross negligence is this:
- If you describe a negligent decision to someone else, they will react with, “Aw, yeah, I’ve done that too.”
- If you describe a grossly negligent decision to someone else, they will say, “Why would you do that?”
Technically speaking, negligence just means ordinary carelessness. It’s a lapse in judgment, not paying attention, or making a bad call. Gross negligence is more severe: it’s doing something that anyone could tell poses a risk of hurting someone.
Here are examples of each:
- Regular negligence: A drunk driver is on their way home. They hear their phone buzz and they look down at it to read a text. Their eyes are off the road for several seconds, but it’s long enough to cause an accident.
- Gross negligence: A drunk driver is on their way home. They drive through a residential neighborhood at 65 mph.
When is Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated a felony?
If you have a previous felony DUI conviction or if this is your fourth DUI, it will automatically be a felony charge.
Otherwise, prosecutors can choose whether to charge you with the felony version or misdemeanor version of this law. It’s largely at their discretion which version they choose. The factors that they consider include:
- Your personal history and criminal record
- Whether you have any prior DUIs
- The circumstances of this specific accident
Remember that prosecutors can have a difficult time proving all the elements of a vehicular manslaughter charge. If you have a good DUI lawyer who can show that it will be hard to convict you, they may agree to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.
What are the penalties for Negligent Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated?
The penalties are different for a misdemeanor conviction and a felony conviction.
Misdemeanor penalties for this charge include:
- Up to 1 year in county jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
- You must pay restitution to the victim’s family
Felony penalties include:
- Either 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years in state prison
- An additional 3 to 6 years if other victims of the accident suffered very serious injuries
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- You must pay restitution to the victim’s family
These are in addition to other DUI penalties such as alcohol/drug treatment, license suspension and mandatory DUI classes. As with all DUIs, the sentences can include extra penalties if certain aggravating factors were present, such as refusing a breath test, excessive speeding, etc.
What are my chances of beating a negligent vehicular manslaughter DUI?
It is possible, and your chances are best if you have a dedicated DUI defense lawyer. Your lawyer will start with an investigation, including:
- Reconstructing what happened in the accident
- Assessing whether officers arrested you legally and whether any of your rights were broken
- Investigating the way the breath test/blood test was carried out and whether the test results can be suppressed
Then, they will look for problems of proof in the prosecutor’s case. For example, did you really break any laws besides DUI? Did the other person have any fault in causing the accident? Could the accident have happened even if you were sober? Any of these elements can derail the prosecutor’s case and make it very hard to convict you. At that point, you could get the charge reduced or in some cases even win 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.