Understanding Vehicular Manslaughter in California

A San Diego man is facing criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter after he caused the death of an East Village woman in October. According to an eye-witness report, the man drove up to the woman and attempted to buy drugs from her. She leaned through his passenger side window and was in the middle of negotiating a deal when he began to drive away. The woman was dragged for 15 feet, her head hit the pavement, and then she was run over by the car.

Vehicular Manslaughter

In California, you can face criminal charges if your behavior causes the death of another person. When you intentionally kill another person you will face charges for homicide. When you unintentionally cause the death of another person, you are more likely to face charges for manslaughter. When you unintentionally kill another person while driving a motor vehicle, you will likely face charges for vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular manslaughter, as defined in California Penal Code 192(c) PC, occurs when you:

  1. Drive a motor vehicle;
  2. While engaging in unlawful and/or negligent conduct; and
  3. Cause the death of another person.

As you can see, there are a variety of different scenarios that can result in criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter. As a result, the severity of the charges you face will depend on (a) whether you were engaged in unlawful conduct and (b) if your conduct is classified as ordinary or gross negligence.

Ordinary Negligence vs. Gross Negligence

The consequences of vehicular manslaughter are greater when a driver acts with gross negligence. Negligence occurs when you breach of a duty of care that is owed to others. As a driver on the road, you automatically assume a duty of care to other drivers on the road, pedestrians, and anyone else who could be harmed. This duty requires you to have a valid license, obey traffic laws, and generally operate the vehicle safely. A breach of this duty is considered negligence.

Gross negligence occurs when you knowingly act in a manner that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury. This is greater than ordinary negligence, which occurs when you are merely careless or inattentive. The difference between gross negligence and ordinary negligence boils down to whether or not the conduct amounts to a “disregard for human life or the consequences of that action.”

Whether conduct is ordinary or gross negligence will depend on the specific facts of a situation. Speeding is conduct that could be considered gross or ordinary negligence. If you are driving at 90 MPH in a 30 MPH zone, your conduct will likely be considered grossly negligent. If, on the other hand, you are driving at 40 MPG in a 30 MPH zone, your conduct will probably be classified as ordinary negligence.

Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony in San Diego. The specific charge you face will depend on the facts and circumstances of your specific incident and your prior criminal record.

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor when:

  1. Your conduct is classified as ordinary negligence and/or
  2. You commit a misdemeanor or infraction while driving.

In either case, your level of conduct does not rise to the level required to aggravate the charges. Texting and driving, for example, would probably result in misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges. The conduct is negligent, but probably is probably not severe enough to be considered gross negligence.

Misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter is punishable by one year in a San Diego County jail, $1,000 in criminal fines, and probation.

Felony Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter will be charged as a felony when:

  1. Your conduct is classified as gross negligence.

Felony vehicular manslaughter is punishable by up to 6 years in a California state prison, $10,000 in fines, and probation.

It is important to know that if you commit are driving while committing a felony and cause death the felony-murder rule will apply. This means that you will face charges for homicide and not vehicular manslaughter.

License Suspension

In addition to time behind bars, fines, and probation, a conviction will also cause you to lose your driving privileges for a period of time. In most situations, your driving privileges will be suspended for at least a year.

Fighting Vehicular Manslaughter Charges in San Diego

Are you facing criminal charges for vehicular manslaughter in San Diego? Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC for help. We have nearly two decades of legal experience and will fight to protect your future. We will thoroughly investigate your alleged crime and argue any legal defense that may help your case. Our aggressive approach often allows us to get the charges against our clients reduced or dismissed. Call our San Diego criminal defense attorneys today to schedule an initial consultation and learn more.

Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC
1230 Columbia Street Suite 565
San Diego, CA 92101


Vehicular Manslaughter