California Penal Code 191.5(a) PC

PC 191.5(a) – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

191.5(a) - Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – Table of Contents

Definition under California Penal Code 191.5(a)

Reckless driving in and of itself is a dangerous proposition. Involve alcohol, and there is bound to be an unfortunate situation possibly resulting in PC 191.5(a).

California penal law describes gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as the unlawful killing of another while driving under the influence, without premeditation or malice aforethought. These cases tend to include vehicular collisions in which a driver or passenger of a car hit by a driver under the influence succumbs to injuries caused by the crash.

Penal Code Section 191.5(a) is the provision which governs the charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in California. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a serious felony that can result in an extensive prison sentence.

Penal Code Section 191.5(a) reads:

(a) Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is one of the most consequential drunk driving offenses an individual can be charged with. It is a felony charge that can carry several years in prison, and it implies the driver knew that he or she was putting lives at risk with their behavior. However, Penal Code Section 191.5(a) is also a difficult charge to prove and there are significant ways to counter it.

Sentencing/Punishment Penal Code 191.5(a)

The sentencing and/or punishment designated for a driving under the influence offense that results in a fatality can be quite severe. As opposed to other vehicular manslaughter “wobbler” offenses that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony (depending on the individual circumstances of the particular case), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is invariably charged as a felony and provides the most serious criminal ramifications. If a driver is convicted under Penal Code Section 191.5(a), he or she can face sentencing of up to four, six or ten years in prison.

Once convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, discretion is held with the court in determining punishment dependent on the particulars of the case. A judge has various options at the time of sentencing, including:

  • Imposition of a four, six or ten year prison term as discussed above;
  • Imposition of an additional three to six year sentence if any surviving victim sustains great bodily injury;
  • Imposition of a sentence of 15 years to life if the defendant received a previous Penal Code Section 191.5 conviction or two prior driving under the influence (DUI) convictions;
  • Imposition of a sentence of up to one year in county jail accompanied by a period of probation; or
  • Imposition of a general term of probation with associated programs (such as community service, work release and/or substance abuse classes).

Note: under California Penal Code Section 1192.7, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is considered a “serious” felony that can add to a strike on a defendant’s criminal record. Therefore, if a defendant has been convicted of a second felony strike offense, his or her sentence will be doubled in accordance with California’s three strikes law. If he or she is convicted of a third felony strike offense, the sentence is a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life in prison. Furthermore, since this offense is considered a serious felony in California, when a defendant is sentenced to prison under Penal Code Section 191.5(a), he or she is required to serve at least 85% of the prescribed sentence before meeting eligibility to be released on parole.

Prosecuting PC 191.5(a)

To be convicted of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the prosecution must prove:

  1. The defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs;
  2. The defendant committed an unlawful act or an otherwise lawful act that might cause death;
  3. The defendant acted with gross negligence; and
  4. The defendant’s grossly negligent conduct caused the death of another.

The prosecution has the burden of proving that the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent in order to gain a conviction of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Gross negligence is more than simple carelessness or mistake. Rather, it is conduct that rises to the level of recklessness that creates a substantial risk of death or great bodily injury. It must be conduct that is such a far deviation from ordinary behavior, that a reasonable person would not act the same in a similar situation.

This standard of conduct is what distinguishes gross vehicular manslaughter from other vehicular manslaughter offenses that require the lower standard of ordinary negligence for a conviction.

The main components the prosecution must establish are whether an accused was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving the vehicle, and whether the accused acted with gross negligence.

It is also worth acknowledging that although a defendant can be convicted of either gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or driving under the influence (DUI), a defendant cannot be convicted of both as the two offenses “merge” into one offense.

Defending Penal Code 191.5(a)

If the district attorney is unable to prove any of the four elements noted above, a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated will not stand. A venerable crime defense attorney can defend an accused defendant under these circumstances and can work to show that either the act was committed without gross negligence, or that the defendant’s conduct was not the negligent act which caused the fatality (i.e., if another person involved in the car accident also violated the law or acted carelessly in some way, contributing to the death).

There are a number of defenses to a Penal Code Section 191.5(a) charge that can be raised. A skilled attorney can argue that the defendant was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that his or her conduct was not negligent and/or that the actions taken were not the cause of death.

If the conduct at hand was not grossly negligent and instead could be interpreted as ordinary negligence, then charges for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated would be unwarranted.

Moreover, if there is insufficient evidence of impairment or intoxication, or if the collision was caused by natural causes, another vehicle or another person, then the defendant would have a strong defense against the charge.

We Want to Help

Working with a skilled attorney will help your case tremendously. The ideal attorney can research and apply the right defenses to your particular case. Being accused of a crime involving driving under the influence can lead to serious consequences for those convicted. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a felony-level offense that is not only punishable by significant incarceration time, but can also result in court fines, restitution to the victim’s family, license revocation, in addition to other extraneous court and/or administrative sanctions.

A sentence and/or punishment for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated can be grave and certainly life changing. You need to contact an experienced California defense attorney who will carefully review your case and provide the best representation possible based on the facts of your specific set of circumstances.

If you or someone you know has been accused of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, it is critical that you meet with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Our experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorneys will be sure to fight until the end to reduce or drop your charges completely.

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