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Los Angeles Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular Manslaughter in LA – What You Need to Know

Hey there! If you’re reading this, you probably want to learn more about vehicular manslaughter laws in Los Angeles. I get it – this stuff can be confusing and kinda scary. As someone who’s worked in criminal law here in LA for a while now, I wanted to break it down for you in a simple, easy-to-understand way. I’ll walk through the basics of what vehicular manslaughter is, what the penalties are, and some of the key things that matter in these cases. Sound good? Okay, let’s get to it!

First up: what exactly is vehicular manslaughter? Basically, it’s when someone causes another person’s death as a result of driving dangerously or negligently. The legal definition in the California Penal Code says you commit vehicular manslaughter if you kill someone while “driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.” (PC 192(c)(1))

In plain English, it means you were driving in a way that showed you didn’t care enough about the safety of others – and that negligence led to someone’s death. Some examples are drunk driving, texting while driving, speeding, running red lights, etc. The key is that you weren’t intending to harm anyone, but you acted irresponsibly and it cost a life.

Now, I know what you might be thinking: isn’t this basically the same thing as murder? Nope! With murder, you have to have intent to kill someone. With vehicular manslaughter, you just have to be negligent. Huge difference legally speaking.

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony in California. For a misdemeanor, the prosecutor has to show you were negligent but not to the level of “gross negligence.” Gross negligence – which can lead to a felony charge – is defined as “a lack of any care or an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.” (CACI 590)

Okay, let’s move on to talk about the penalties and sentences for this crime. As I mentioned, it can either be a misdemeanor or felony charge. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter – up to 1 year in county jail, fines up to $1,000
  • Felony vehicular manslaughter – 16 months, 2 years or 4 years in state prison, fines up to $10,000

The sentence depends a lot on the specific circumstances of the incident, your criminal history, and what the judge thinks is appropriate. Many factors come into play. If there were aggravating factors like drunk driving, fleeing the scene, excessive speeding, etc., you’re looking at harsher punishment. The judge also has discretion to grant probation instead of jail time for some misdemeanor cases.

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Now, I know reading about jail time is scary. But here’s the thing: there are options to fight these charges and avoid the worst penalties. A good criminal defense lawyer will thoroughly examine the evidence to look for weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case. For instance:

  • Was there proof you were actually driving negligently, or could it have been an accident?
  • Did the victim contribute to the collision through their own negligence?
  • Can they prove your actions directly caused the death, and not some other factor?

Poking holes in the prosecution’s argument is key. An experienced attorney can also negotiate with them to get charges reduced or dismissed. Let me give you an example…

Say you were involved in a fatal accident after having 2 drinks at dinner. The prosecutor charges felony vehicular manslaughter alleging you were driving drunk. But your lawyer investigates and finds the restaurant receipts showing you only had 2 drinks over a 3 hour dinner. And your blood alcohol level was actually below the legal limit when tested later that night.

Armed with this evidence, your attorney could go to the prosecutor and argue that you weren’t legally impaired. After presenting the facts, there’s a good chance they may agree to amend the charges to misdemeanor negligence instead of drunk driving homicide. That would dramatically reduce your penalties.

See how the right legal strategy can make a huge difference? Don’t just plead guilty and accept the maximum sentence. Fight the charges and look for ways to get them reduced or dismissed.

Common Defenses in Vehicular Manslaughter Cases

Since I brought up legal defenses, let’s talk about some of the common ones that come up in California vehicular manslaughter cases:

  • No negligence – Argue that your driving was not negligent at all, and it was just a tragic accident.
  • Lack of causation – Argue there’s no definitive proof your actions actually caused the other person’s death.
  • Comparative negligence – Argue the victim’s own negligence contributed to the accident.
  • No gross negligence – Argue your actions don’t meet the legal standard for gross negligence.
  • Necessity – Argue you only committed the unlawful act because you needed to prevent a greater harm from occurring.

A skilled lawyer will look at the unique details of your case to craft the best defense strategy. Don’t go it alone here – the legal help is invaluable.

How Lawyers Defend DUI Vehicular Manslaughter Charges

Now let’s talk specifically about cases involving driving under the influence (DUI). Unfortunately, many vehicular manslaughter charges involve impaired driving in Los Angeles. DUIs always make the case more challenging, but it’s still possible to fight the charges and win.

If the prosecution alleges you were driving drunk and killed someone, your attorney will scrutinize every detail of the incident and investigation. Here are some of the strategies they may use:

  • Challenge the validity of field sobriety/breathalyzer tests
  • Dispute the blood alcohol level results
  • Raise doubt about whether impairment caused the accident
  • Argue you weren’t actually the driver of the vehicle
  • Claim the officer lacked probable cause for the DUI arrest

The goal is to undermine the prosecutor’s assertion that you were driving under the influence. This can get the DUI-related charges tossed out entirely.

For example, your lawyer may find out the breathalyzer machine hadn’t been properly calibrated. Or the blood sample was mishandled and gave a falsely high reading. Or there’s evidence you swerved to avoid another car, proving the accident wasn’t due to intoxication.

The bottom line is don’t just accept a DUI vehicular manslaughter charge at face value. Dig deeper into the evidence and circumstances. An aggressive legal fight can pay off in these high-stakes cases.

What Factors Determine the Sentence?

Judges have a lot of discretion when imposing sentences for vehicular manslaughter convictions in California. Some of the main factors they consider are:

  • Your criminal history, if any
  • Severity of the negligence (i.e. speeding vs drunk driving)
  • Number of victims
  • Injuries to survivors, if any
  • Whether you fled the scene
  • Your remorse and acceptance of responsibility
  • If you have a prior DUI conviction
  • Support from the victim’s family for leniency

As you can see, there are many variables at play. The sentence can range from probation and a fine on the low end, up to 4+ years in state prison on the high end. Again, having an attorney argue for mitigating factors can make a huge impact.

For example, let’s say you were speeding and got into an accident that killed a passenger in the other car. You had no criminal record, immediately rendered aid at the scene, and have been cooperative with authorities. The victim’s family asks the judge for mercy since it was a tragic mistake.

In a case like that, your lawyer could make a compelling argument for probation and minimal jail time. Remorse, lack of criminal history, and victim input are all powerful mitigating factors.

On the other hand, if you had 2 prior DUIs, fled the scene, and showed no remorse, you’d likely get the book thrown at you with years in prison. So the sentence varies dramatically based on the details.

Can Felony Charges Get Reduced to Misdemeanors?

Absolutely! In fact, this is one of the most important roles your criminal defense attorney can play. Getting felony vehicular manslaughter charges reduced to misdemeanors can make a huge difference in the penalties you face.

Some of the main strategies lawyers use to secure a reduction are:

  • Casting doubt on the prosecutor’s evidence of gross negligence
  • Presenting mitigating evidence about your good character
  • Highlighting any negligence by the victim
  • Citing your lack of criminal history
  • Arguing that probation would serve the interests of justice

Through skillful negotiation and advocacy, an attorney may convince the prosecutor to lessen the charges. Going from 4+ years in state prison for a felony down to 1 year in county jail for a misdemeanor is a game-changer.

Let’s walk through a quick example…

You were involved in an accident that killed a pedestrian after having a few drinks at a bar. The DA charges felony DUI vehicular manslaughter. But your lawyer investigates and learns the pedestrian was jaywalking against the light when the collision occurred.

Armed with this evidence, your attorney is able to get the charges reduced to misdemeanor negligent driving. Instead of years in prison, you get probation and 6 months in county jail. All because your lawyer fought to reduce the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The bottom line is: don’t just give up if you’re facing felony vehicular manslaughter charges. There are ways to challenge the allegations and seek a reduction. Don’t leave that possibility on the table!

Can These Cases Get Dismissed Entirely?

It’s rare, but yes – it is possible in some cases to get vehicular manslaughter charges dismissed completely. This usually requires the defense attorney finding major holes in the prosecution’s case.

For instance, your lawyer may uncover evidence proving:

  • You weren’t actually driving the vehicle
  • Your driving didn’t cause the fatal accident
  • The alleged victim actually died of unrelated natural causes
  • The police violated your rights in obtaining evidence

In cases like these, your attorney can file motions arguing there is insufficient evidence to support the charges against you. If the judge agrees and tosses the case, you walk away with no conviction or penalties.

While outright dismissals are uncommon, they do happen. So it’s critical to have a tenacious lawyer scrutinizing every aspect of the prosecution’s case. Any viable angle for dismissal needs to be identified and pursued. Don’t give up hope!

Takeaways on Los Angeles Vehicular Manslaughter

Okay, we’ve covered a lot of ground here! Let’s recap some of the key takeaways:

  • Vehicular manslaughter means causing someone’s death through negligent driving.
  • It can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances.
  • Penalties range from probation up to years in state prison.
  • DUI accidents often lead to vehicular manslaughter charges.
  • There are viable defenses that a skilled lawyer can raise.
  • Felony charges can potentially get reduced to misdemeanors.
  • Factors like criminal history and remorse affect sentencing.
  • These cases can sometimes get dismissed with the right legal strategy.

The bottom line is don’t panic if you or a loved one is accused of this crime. A knowledgeable and aggressive defense attorney can make all the difference. Fight the charges, look for weaknesses, and aim for the best possible outcome under the circumstances.

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