California prosecutors treat violent crimes seriously, and manslaughter is one of these offenses. They seek the maximum possible sentence. Therefore, a conviction will subject you to hefty fines and/ or a lengthy incarceration period. You may also lose your firearm rights, not to mention the collateral consequences that may follow you for the rest of your life. Consequently, if you have been arrested, charged, or are under investigation for manslaughter, you need to seek legal counsel fast.
At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have a proven track record of helping people charged with manslaughter achieve the best possible outcome for their case. If you are facing charges, you should reach out to us immediately so we can assist you in building a solid defense strategy. We will fight aggressively to have your charges dismissed or reduced. Call our experienced lawyers and share your case details for assessment.
The Legal Meaning of Manslaughter
The definition of the offense of California manslaughter is provided under Penal Codes 192 and 191.5 as the illegal termination of a person’s life without malice aforethought. The law recognizes three forms of manslaughter offense— vehicular, involuntary, and voluntary manslaughter.
Penal Code 192 (a) PC, Voluntary Manslaughter
The penal code defines voluntary manslaughter as killing someone else in the middle of an unexpected quarrel or in the heat of passion without malice aforethought. You need not have the malicious intention to kill the victim to face voluntary manslaughter charges.
You are said to have malice aforethought if you have the intention to kill a person or your act with wanton/reckless disregard for people's lives. However, lack of malice aforethought is presumed when the killing happens in the heat of passion/during an unexpected argument. A prevalent instance is a woman walking in on her husband with another woman in bed. If the woman kills her husband or the other woman, it is presumed that the killing happened in the heat of passion and the law considers it voluntary manslaughter.
The heat of passion under this law means any intense or violent emotion that makes a person act impulsively. If between the time you are provoked and the time you kill, you had sufficient time to calm down and regain your capacity to reason, the judge is more likely to convict you of premeditated murder and not manslaughter.
For the judge to convict you of voluntary manslaughter, the prosecuting attorney must show that:
The victim provoked you.
The provocation made you act with impaired reasoningand judgment.
Any reasonable individual would have recklessly acted if provoked the way you were.
The prosecution team must demonstrate that the victim drove you over the edge; thus, you were incapable of controlling yourself and acted in a way that any reasonable individual would act had they been in a similar situation.
Penal Code 192(b) PC, Involuntary Manslaughter
California law defines involuntary manslaughter as killing a person:
While in the commission of a legal deed that might cause death if done with no due caution.
While in the commission of an illegal activity that does not rise to the level of a felony.
The illegal action can either be a misdemeanor or a not necessarily dangerous offense. In short, involuntary manslaughter is killing someone else without the intention to do so. The involuntary manslaughter law does not apply to actions performed while driving an auto. The crime is considered a lesser offense of murder or voluntary manslaughter because the demise that results from the involuntary manslaughter crime is deemed unintentional.
Penal Code 192(c) PC, Vehicular Manslaughter
PC 192(c) recognizes three kinds of vehicular manslaughter crime:
PC 192(c)(1), gross negligence vehicular manslaughter.
PC 192(c)(2), vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence.
PC 192(c)(3), vehicular manslaughter for financial gain.
Penal Code 192(c)(3) PC, Vehicular Manslaughter for Monetary Gain
You commit vehicular manslaughter for financial gain if:
While behind the wheel, you consciously cause/participate in causing an accident.
You cause/participate in causing the crash aware that the accident's purpose is to file a fraudulent insurance claim for monetary gain (that is, commit automobile insurance fraud)
You acted intending to defraud another person or the insurance provider.
The accident results in the death of someone else.
In other words, it is deemed vehicular manslaughter when you unintentionally kill someone else while intentionally wrecking a vehicle to commit auto insurance fraud.
Penal Code 192(c)(2) PC, Ordinary Vehicular Manslaughter
PC 192(c)(2) describes the misdemeanor/ordinary vehicular manslaughter offense. The prosecuting attorney must show the following for a conviction:
While behind the wheel, you executed an infraction or a misdemeanor or performed a legal act illegally.
Your act was dangerous to human life given those circumstances under which you committed
You acted with ordinary negligence.
Your action led to the death of someone else.
Ordinary negligence examples in vehicular manslaughter charges include talking on the phone without a hands-free device, texting when driving, and speeding. You can be guilty of the vehicular manslaughter offense if:
The passenger or motorist of the vehicle you hit passed away due to the injuries sustained from the accident.
A passenger in the vehicle you were driving passed away due to your negligence.
A pedestrian died due to your negligent actions.
The primary difference between gross-negligence vehicular manslaughter and misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter is the latter only needs negligence that does not rise to the degree of gross. Ordinary negligence means you did not use reasonable caution to avert reasonably predictable harm to another person.
Penal Code 192(c)(1) PC, Gross Negligence Vehicular Manslaughter
For the judge to convict you of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, the prosecution must show that:
While behind the wheel, you committed an infraction or misdemeanor or committed a legal action in a way that may cause death.
Your action was dangerous to human life given the circumstances.
You acted grossly negligently.
Your conduct led to the demise of someone else.
Gross negligence is the critical element under this subsection. If the prosecution team cannot prove you acted grossly negligently, the judge may only convict you of vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence. Gross negligence or carelessness refers to something beyond ordinary carelessness, a mistake in judgment, or inattentiveness. It happens when an individual acts recklessly, generating an elevated risk of significant bodily injury/death, and any reasonable individual would be aware that acting that way could produce a risk of that kind.
It only qualifies as gross negligence if you act very differently from how a standard careful party would under similar circumstances that your act shows a real disregard for people's lives or the repercussions of your actions.
Also, for the judge to sentence you for gross-negligence vehicular manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that your actions caused someone else's demise. This means the victim's death should be the probable, natural, and direct result of your deeds. Put otherwise; it has to be something an ordinarily reasonable individual would know was likely to take place.
Note: for a vehicular manslaughter charge to hold, the unlawful act should not have been a felony. This is because should you kill someone else with a vehicle while in the commission of a felony act, the D.A will likely charge you with murder instead under the felony-murder rule.
We also have other forms of the crime of vehicular manslaughter crimes involving reckless or drunk driving. These crimes are described under PC 191.5(a) and PC 191.5(b). They are:
PC 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
PC 191.5(b), vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Penal Code 191.5(a) PC, Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
You commit vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated when you, while drunk or high and operating an auto with gross negligence, cause a crash in which someone else dies. The prosecution must prove the following for you to be convicted:
You drove an auto while drunk or high.
While operating the auto, you additionally executed an infraction, another misdemeanor, or otherwise legal act that may result in death.
You performed the infraction, misdemeanor, or other action grossly negligently.
The grossly negligent act led to someone else dying.
Penal Code 191.5(b) PC, Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
You commit vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated when you drive while drunk/high and commit another negligent act while at it, and consequently, someone dies. This crime is sometimes referred to as vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated with ordinary negligence. The prosecutor has to prove the following for the judge to find you guilty:
You drove while drunk/high.
While at it, you committed an infraction, another misdemeanor, or otherwise a lawful deed that had a higher risk of death.
You committed the infraction, misdemeanor, or the other deed with ordinary negligence.
The negligent act led to someone else dying.
Consequences for the Manslaughter Crime
The three forms of manslaughter crimes are punished differently based on facts. The consequences are as follows:
Voluntary manslaughter is a felony offense. If convicted, you may face eleven, six, or three years of a prison sentence and a fine that does not exceed ten thousand dollars. You may also lose your right to possess/own a firearm, and the judge can also sentence you to a counseling program and community service. The voluntary manslaughter crime is also a strike per the state’s Three Strikes Law. When we compare voluntary manslaughter and murder, a conviction of murder can lead to life imprisonment. Thus, if you have been charged with California murder, you want to have a skilled lawyer who can aggressively fight to have your charges dropped or, if that is not possible, lowered to manslaughter.
Even though California law considers involuntary manslaughter a lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter, it is still charged as a felony. Under PC 1170(h) and 192(b), a conviction of involuntary manslaughter is punished by four, three, or two years in prison. Based on your case facts, the judge may order that you serve a portion of your incarceration period under the compulsory supervision of a probation officer under PC 672. You may also be subject to a fine that does not exceed ten thousand dollars, lose your right to possess/own a gun, and lose your professional license if you have one. Thus, you want to hire a skilled lawyer who may be capable of having your charges dismissed or reduced.
The involuntary manslaughter crime is not considered a strike per the state’s Three Strikes Law. Even though the offense is a homicide, the law does not categorize it as a violent or serious felony. Something worth noting is that the involuntary manslaughter crime could also trigger a wrongful death lawsuit by the victim's family.
The three forms of the crime of vehicular manslaughter are punished as follows:
Gross-Negligence Vehicular Manslaughter
Gross-negligence vehicular manslaughter is considered a wobbler. If it is a misdemeanor charge, the potential penalties are misdemeanor probation, a year in jail, and a fine not exceeding a thousand dollars upon conviction. If it is a felony charge, the possible consequences are felony probation, up to six years in prison, and a fine of 10,000 dollars upon a conviction.
Ordinary Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties
A conviction of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter carries summary probation, up to a thousand dollars in fines, and a jail time of a year.
Punishments for Vehicular Manslaughter for Monetary Benefit
Vehicular manslaughter for monetary benefit is a straight felony. Possible penalties upon a conviction include up to 10,000 dollars in fines and ten, six, or four years of a prison sentence.
If found guilty of either vehicular manslaughter for monetary gain or gross-negligence vehicular manslaughter, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) may suspend/revoke your privileges to drive for three years. Should you drive when your driver's license has been suspended/revoked, you may face further charges under VC 14601, driving with a suspended/revoked license.
Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
DUI causing someone else’s death can be prosecuted as gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or Watson murder. If charged under PC 191.5(a), your punishment upon a conviction may include 10,000 dollars in fines, ten, six, or four years in prison, and felony probation.
Ordinary Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Violating PC 191.5(b) is considered a wobbler offense. A misdemeanor conviction is punished by summary probation, up to one thousand dollars in fines, and a jail sentence of one year. A felony conviction is punished by up to ten thousand dollars in fines and a prison sentence of four years.
Defending Against Manslaughter Charges
A manslaughter conviction carries severe penalties. Luckily, the law presumes you are innocent until proven guilty. This means you can mount a defense strategy to defend yourself against the charges you face. To increase the chances of a successful defense, you need the help of a skilled manslaughter criminal defense lawyer. Most lawyers have court experience and will know what defense applies to your case. Some of the defenses they can argue are:
You Were Not Intoxicated
This defense applies to the charges of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. If the prosecuting attorney does not have any proof that you were drunk/high during the commission of the crime, such as witness testimony or breathalyzer test results, you can only be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter under PC 191.5.
There might not be enough proof of whether you acted negligently or caused the victim's demise in most cases.
The Killing Was Accidental
If you kill a person accidentally and you were acting lawfully, were not negligent during the commission of the crime, and did not have the intent to harm the victim, the judge cannot sentence you for the manslaughter crime.
The Insanity Defense
To argue the insanity defense, your lawyer has to show that you were not aware of the difference between what is wrong and right, or you did not understand the nature of your actions.
Self Defense/Defense of Someone Else
The state's self-defense statutes allow a person to kill another if they have reason to believe they need to prevent significant bodily injury or death to themselves or someone else.
Imperfect self-defense is similar to the defense of self-defense/defense of someone else, but here, the belief of imminent danger or the use of force was unreasonable. You act in imperfect self-defense or imperfect self-defense of someone else if:
You actually believed that you or another person was in immediate danger of sustaining a significant bodily injury or being killed.
You actually believed the imminent application of deadly force was necessary to defend yourself or the other person against the danger.
At least one of those beliefs was unreasonable.
False or Wrongful Accusations
People often wrongly/falsely accuse others of manslaughter, especially involuntary manslaughter. It may be that the victim's friends or family members want to reduce their (victim) role in their own demise by blaming it all on a different person. Alternatively, it may be someone who wants to harm or take revenge against the accused.
Whichever the case, this is a situation where an attorney with expertise in manslaughter cases, who understands the stakes and how essential technical details are, can be valuable in fighting the charges against you.
You can argue the mistaken identity defense if you believe the prosecution team charged the wrong person with manslaughter. If you argue this defense, you will have to assert an alibi with supporting proof to show that you were at another place at the time of the crime.
Your Actions Were Not Grossly Negligent
The above defense applies specifically to gross vehicular manslaughter charges. Driving an auto needs everyone to make swift decisions, and it may be difficult to argue that the decision you made, even if it eventually turned out to be a bad one, was so bad as to rise to the level of gross negligence. If facing gross vehicular manslaughter charges, your lawyer may successfully assert that your action was only negligent and not grossly negligent. This may reduce your potential punishment by qualifying you for vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence charges.
Crimes Related to Manslaughter
Three crimes are related to the various forms of manslaughter. This means these offenses can be charged alongside or instead of manslaughter based on the factors of the case. They include:
PC 187a/664, Attempted Murder
Per PC 187a/664, you commit attempted murder when you intend to kill a person and take a direct step towards the killing, but the victim you meant to kill does not die. Like PC 192 charges, you can argue the 'self-defense' if facing attempted murder charges.
PC 187, Murder
Per PC 187, murder is the offense where a person kills another or a fetus with malice aforethought. Note that voluntary manslaughter is the killing of someone in an illegal manner but without malice. So if the prosecutor can prove that you maliciously committed the killing in question, they will charge you with murder instead.
A possible prison term for murder can range between fifteen and life imprisonment. Or, if it is murder with special circumstances, you may be subject to the death penalty. Examples of actions that constitute murder with special circumstances are murdering a police officer or witness and killing someone for monetary gain.
PC 187, Watson Murder
Per PC 187, you commit Watson/DUI murder when you have a prior DUI conviction and kill another person while driving while intoxicated. This crime is closely related to gross/ordinary voluntary manslaughter while intoxicated. And like a voluntary manslaughter conviction, a conviction of Watson Murder can lead to a possible strike on your criminal record per the state's three-strikes law.
Find a Skilled Manslaughter Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with manslaughter, you want to reach out to an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you build defenses At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we have decades of experience successfully defending clients facing manslaughter charges. We will fight aggressively to achieve the most favorable outcome. Contact us today at 619-877-6894 to schedule a free consultation.