Suppose that one evening, after drinking heavily at a local bar, you and a friend get into your car to drive him home. You're speeding and texting as you swerve from your lane and rear-end a parked car. Your friend is killed. Subsequently, the prosecutor charges you with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, in violation of Penal Code section 191.5(a). The punishment for this offense is imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6 or 10 years.
To prove that you are guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the prosecutor must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- You drove under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and/or a drug;
- While driving that vehicle you also committed a misdemeanor, an infraction and/or otherwise lawful act that might cause death;
- You committed the misdemeanor, infraction and/or otherwise lawful act that might cause death with gross negligence, and
- Your gross negligent conduct caused the death of another person.
Gross negligence is defined as negligent acts that go beyond ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with gross negligence when the way he acts is so different from the way an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.
What Defenses Are Available?
There are several defenses available to a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter. An experienced defense attorney will initially address the following two:
A. You Were Not Driving Under The Influence
You cannot be found guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter if you were not driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The attorney will thoroughly review the police report for inaccuracies and ensure that:
1. Field Sobriety Tests (FST) procedures were properly followed;
2. Preliminary Breath Test (PAS) was correctly administered;
3. Blood and/or breath tests were lawfully obtained;
4. The test equipment was effectively maintained and calibrated.
B. Your Actions Do Not Constitute Gross Negligence
It is important to know that even though you drove under the influence of alcohol, texted and swerved from your lane, is not enough, in itself, to constitute gross negligence. To constitute gross negligence a jury must look at your level of intoxication, the manner of your driving and other aspects of your driving which resulted in the fatal accident. Everyone can agree that a person who drives with a very high level of intoxication, is more negligent and more dangerous than a person who drives near the legal limit of intoxication, just as a person who drives 50 miles per hour faster than the speed limit shows more negligence that one who drives 5 miles over the speed limit.
A defense attorney will likely employ the services of a private investigator and an accident reconstructionist to interview witnesses, collect physical information from the scene of the accident, create models and evaluate possible hypotheses for the cause of the collision. The team 's aim is to present a reliable and realistic conclusion that your actions did not rise to the level of gross negligence.
If you have been accused of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in Temecula, Murrieta, Lake Elsinore, Wildomar, Menifee, Perris, Hemet, Banning, Corona, Winchester or Riverside, you need the assistance of an effective and experienced criminal defense attorney. Call my office immediately to schedule a free consultation directly with me.