California recognizes two crimes in California Vehicle Code § 191.5 resulting in the death of a person related to the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. Both are serious offenses and both may be charged as felony offenses. However, like any criminal offense, there are valid, legal defenses to these crimes. An experienced California criminal defense attorney is crucial to ensuring that all the defenses available to those charged with vehicular manslaughter are asserted under these serious circumstances.
To be found guilty of either offense, the defendant must have been legally intoxicated under California law and, while driving under the influence, committed another misdemeanor, infraction, or otherwise lawful act that might cause death, committed this act with negligence [“gross” under § 191.5 (a) and “ordinary” under § 191.5 (b)], and such negligent conduct caused the death of another.
California considers motorists to be driving while intoxicated if they violate California Vehicle Code § 23152(a) (driving while under the influence of alcohol) and violate California Vehicle Code § 23152(b) (driving with a BAC of .08 or higher). This also applies to motorists who drive under the influence of drugs or the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. Drivers under the age of 21 with a BAC of 0.05 or higher violate California Vehicle Code § 23140.
It is important to note that the DUI itself cannot satisfy the requirement regarding an unlawful act or act likely to cause death. There must be another unlawful act or lawful act likely to cause death in addition to the act of driving intoxicated under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or a combination of both.
As to the crime listed under California Vehicle Code § 191.5(b), a defendant may be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated only if he or she acts with ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent any reasonably foreseeable harm to others. A motorist may be guilty of committing a negligent act when he or she does something a reasonably careful person would not do in a similar situation or fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in a similar situation. The result must be the direct, natural, and probable consequence of negligent conduct.
The following are some defenses to vehicular manslaughter DUI:
- The act did not occur while the defendant was intoxicated
- The defendant did not act negligently
- The defendant’s negligent act did not cause the death of the victim
- An emergency, such as driving a sick or injured passenger to the hospital, justified the defendant’s conduct.
As determining cause and effect in motor vehicle accidents is complex, there is some likelihood that it will be difficult to prove, especially in multiple-car accidents, precisely, whose negligence caused the event. It may be necessary to reconstruct the accident scene and analyze it with expert testimony to determine the causes and the parties specifically at fault.
The fact that a defendant was intoxicated may be challenged by attacking the evidence that asserts intoxication, such as what the arresting officer actually observed, as well as the validity of any breath or blood tests. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know exactly how to assert a defendant’s rights in this situation to ensure that the prosecutor’s evidence of the crime of vehicular manslaughter DUI is adequately substantial.
The attorney that any defendant hires may be crucial to achieving the best possible result. John Patrick Dolan has forty years of criminal defense experience. Contact Dolan Law Offices today at 760-775-3739 or 562-824-4007 to discuss your situation or find out more online here.