Any driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs, who causes an accident that results in the death of another driver, passenger, cyclist, pedestrian, or bystander, may be charged with vehicular manslaughter. California Vehicle Code § 191.5 recognizes two separate offenses distinguished by whether they are caused by gross negligence. While the punishment is more severe when gross negligence is involved, both are very serious felony offenses that have significant penalties.
California Vehicle Code § 191.5(a) states that the crime of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of either Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the California Vehicle Code, statutes which involve driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
This crime results from the commission of an unlawful act, but not a felony, or the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner. This unlawful or lawful act must also occur with gross negligence for a driver to be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter. The offenses under California Vehicle Code § 191.5 are identical – both result from the commission of an unlawful act, but not a felony, or the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner.
However, an offense under § 191.5(b) occurs without gross negligence, which means for purposes of any charge under § 191.5 (b), a showing of ordinary negligence is sufficient to convict under the statute. Thus, the difference between the two offenses is the degree of negligence required to convict a driver charged with either crime.
The following example illustrates the difference between both offenses:
Ollie Ordinary drives home from a bar after drinking. He observes the speed limit and drives in a reasonable fashion. Ollie runs a stop sign and strikes another car, killing the driver. Ollie will likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under California Vehicle Code § 191.5(b).
Gary Gross drives home from a bar after drinking. He exceeds the speed limit and repeatedly changes lanes driving in an unreasonable manner. Gary runs a stop sign and strikes another car, killing the driver. Gary will likely be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under California Vehicle Code § 191.5(a).
John Patrick Dolan has handled everything from traffic tickets to death penalty murder cases. Mr. Dolan has represented California motorists charged with DUI for over 40 years. He is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a true courtroom veteran of DUI cases. Call the Dolan Law Offices today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.