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Were You Charged with California Crime Manslaughter or Vehicular Homicide Under Penal Code 192?

Manslaughter is a form of homicide, the most serious type of criminal offense a person can be accused of committing in California.  Defendants who are convicted of manslaughter can be sentenced to many years in prison, receive costly fines, and face other devastating penalties.

If you or one of your family members has been charged with manslaughter in Ventura County or Santa Barbara County, it is absolutely imperative that you are represented by an extremely experienced California defense attorney with the knowledge, skill, and network of resources to devote to these complex charges.  Do not wait to begin exploring your legal options.  To arrange a free legal consultation, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC immediately at (805) 585-5056.

What Is the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter Charges?

California manslaughter charges are prosecuted under Cal. Penal Code § 192.  There are three main types of manslaughter offenses in the state of California:

  • Voluntary Manslaughter – Cal. Penal Code § 192(a)
  • Involuntary Manslaughter – Cal. Penal Code § 192(b)
  • Vehicular Manslaughter – Cal. Penal Code § 192(c)

Additionally, vehicular manslaughter has two related offenses:

  • Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Cal. Penal Code § 191.5(a)
  • Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Cal. Penal Code § 191.5(b)

Vehicular manslaughter and related charges are explained in a separate section below.  This section focuses on defining and explaining the differences between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in California.
Though voluntary and involuntary manslaughter both involve the “unlawful killing of a human being without malice,” malice being a crucial element of murder charges, there are important differences that distinguish these crimes.  The statute provides the following as elements of each offense:

  • Involuntary Manslaughter — This offense is charged under Cal. Penal Code § 192(b) when the defendant allegedly commits, without malice, an unlawful killing:
    • While engaged in an unlawful act other than a felony.
    • While engaged in a lawful act “which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection” for the risks present in the situation.
  • Voluntary Manslaughter — This offense is charged under Cal. Penal Code § 192(a) when the defendant allegedly commits, without malice, an unlawful killing “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.”

The term “heat of passion” or “crime of passion” is often misunderstood, thanks largely to inaccurate depictions in legal dramas.  Cal. Penal Code § 192(f)(1) explicitly states the following:
“For purposes of determining sudden quarrel or heat of passion… the provocation was not objectively reasonable if it resulted from the discovery of [or] knowledge about… the victim’s… gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, including [situations where] the victim made an unwanted nonforcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant, or [where] the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
“Malice” means either:

  • Acting with “deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature.”
  • Acting in such a manner that “the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”

To reiterate, manslaughter is charged when a defendant acts without malice.  If the defendant is accused of acting with malice, he or she may be charged with murder.

What is the Prison Sentence for Manslaughter in California?

All crimes in California belong in one of three categories: lesser offenses called misdemeanors, very serious offenses called felonies, or situation-dependent offenses called “wobblers,” which can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors depending on the circumstances of a given case.  Unlike vehicular manslaughter, which can be a misdemeanor or wobbler, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are both felonies.
California criminal penalties for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are severe, but can vary considerably depending on the circumstances under which the offense occurred.  Cal. Penal Code § 193 provides the following prison sentences for defendants who are convicted of manslaughter in California:

  • Involuntary Manslaughter — 2, 3, or 4 years in prison
  • Voluntary Manslaughter — 3, 6, or 11 years in prison

Incarceration, though understandably the greatest concern for most defendants, is not the only consequence that can result from a manslaughter conviction.  In addition to facing a lengthy prison sentence, the defendant may also be fined up to $10,000, lose their gun privileges, and be ordered to perform community service, among other repercussions.  Furthermore, it can also become virtually impossible to find a job, as many employers are extremely hesitant to hire an applicant with a history involving a felony homicide offense.

Is Vehicular Homicide a Felony or Misdemeanor Offense in California?

As noted in the previous section, California divides criminal offenses into three categories:

  • Misdemeanors, which are lesser offenses.
  • Felonies, which are the most serious types of crimes.
  • “Wobblers,” which are crimes that can be charged as felonies or misdemeanors on a case-by-case basis.

Vehicular manslaughter, which is charged under Cal. Penal Code § 192(c), may be categorized as a misdemeanor or a wobbler, meaning it may be treated as a felony in some cases.  The severity of the charges – and the associated penalties – ultimately depend on factors like whether the defendant:

  • Acted with ordinary or gross (extreme) negligence.
  • Was committing a felony at the time of the offense.
  • Was intoxicated at the time of the offense.

A person can be charged with vehicular manslaughter in Ventura or Santa Barbara for allegedly driving a vehicle while committing:

  • “An unlawful act, not amounting to a felony,” with or without gross negligence.
  • “A lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner,” with or without gross negligence.

Negligence, a legal concept which also arises in civil matters, is the careless failure to exercise due care – for example, texting or playing with a smartphone app while driving, instead of paying attention to the road.
As with any criminal charge, the prosecution must prove every element of the alleged crime in order for the defendant to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter.  Potential defenses against vehicular homicide charges in California could, depending on the case, include:

  • Acting without negligence or gross negligence.
  • Responding, in a reasonable manner, to a sudden emergency situation.

Due to the California felony-murder rule, if the defendant was committing a felony at the time of the accident, he or she would be charged with murder under Cal. Penal Code § 187.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

California’s penal code distinguishes between vehicular manslaughter and two separate but related crimes:

  • Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Cal. Penal Code § 191.5(b)
  • Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Cal. Penal Code § 191.5(a)

Both involve “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle,” while committing DUI (driving under the influence).  The person may be intoxicated by alcohol, controlled substances, prescription medications, or any combination thereof.  Narcotics and medications that may lead to drug-related vehicular manslaughter charges include:

  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Ketamine
  • LSD (“Acid”)
  • Marijuana
  • MDMA (“Ecstasy”)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Morphine
  • OxyContin (Oxycodone)
  • Percocet (Oxycodone)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, “Angel Dust”)
  • Psilocybin Mushrooms
  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
  • Xanax (Alprazolam)

The primary difference between these charges is that vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated involves ordinary negligence, whereas gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated involves gross negligence, which is more extreme.  Offenses involving gross negligence are subject to substantially greater penalties, which are explained in the next section.

Criminal Penalties for Vehicular Homicide and Drunk Driving in Oxnard

If a defendant is convicted of vehicular manslaughter or a related offense involving intoxication, the criminal penalties will depend on the nature of the offense, and how it is classified under California law.

  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a wobbler, which means it can be a felony or misdemeanor.  If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in jail.  If charged as a felony, the maximum sentence is six years in prison.
  • Vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence is a misdemeanor.  The maximum sentence is one year in jail.
  • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler.  If charged as a misdemeanor, the maximum sentence is one year in jail.  If charged as a felony, the maximum prison sentence may be:
    • 16 months
    • 2 years
    • 4 years
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony.  The maximum prison sentence may be:
    • 4 years
    • 6 years
    • 10 years

In addition to being incarcerated in jail or prison, the defendant will also face heavy fines, driver’s license suspension penalties, and other serious consequences.  He or she will also receive a criminal record, which can interfere with every aspect of daily life.

Experienced Homicide Defense Attorneys Serving Ventura and Santa Barbara County

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Having a criminal record of manslaughter changes the way you are perceived by peers, employers, landlords, and others.  It may prevent you from getting a job, moving ahead in your career, or taking advantage of other life opportunities.  You can also receive very costly fines, and face many months or years in jail or prison.

The financial, professional, and psychological devastation of a manslaughter conviction can alter your life forever.  During this difficult, frightening time, it is critical that you have dedicated legal support from an aggressive and experienced California manslaughter attorney who will protect your rights while guiding you through the court system and fighting vigorously for a favorable resolution to your case.  It may be possible to have the charges reduced, or have the case dismissed altogether.

Depending on the circumstances, there are various legal defenses which may be utilized against manslaughter charges in California.  For example, it may be a defense that the defendant was acting in self-defense, or to protect others from immediate harm.  In other situations, the insanity defense may be applicable.  It is also a defense to establish that the death was accidental, and that, at the time of the accident, the defendant was acting lawfully without negligence or criminal intent to inflict harm.

No matter how complex the factors at hand, our Ventura manslaughter lawyers will put every detail of your case under a microscope to devise an aggressive defense strategy designed to protect your freedoms.  However, every moment you delay hurts your chances of defeating the charges.  When the allegations are this serious, it is absolutely crucial to begin reviewing the case as soon as possible.

The Santa Barbara manslaughter lawyers of Bamieh & De Smeth handle homicide charges throughout Santa Barbara County and Ventura County, including but not limited to Thousand Oaks, Santa Maria, Simi Valley, Lompoc, Oxnard, Goleta, Camarillo, Orcutt, Moorpark, Montecito, Santa Paula, Solvang, Port Hueneme, and Oak Park.  If one of your family members was arrested for manslaughter in Ventura or the surrounding area, call The Law Offices of Bamieh & De Smeth, PLC at (805) 585-5056 as soon as possible for a free legal consultation.

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