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Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

DUI charges in the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County

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The usual reaction to driving under the influence (DUI) charges in Fresno and surrounding areas is that someone is being forced to pay a fine, spend some time in jail and having their driver's license suspended. This may be true for many situations, but an enhanced sentence may be the result when the offense involves another individual who has been seriously injured or even killed as a result of the DUI.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated in Fresno

In the state of California, a portion of state law addresses the offense of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. The penal code (PC 191.5(b)) describes that violation "as an unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, the driving of the vehicle," where the driving was in violation of the California Vehicle Code. Also, the death of the individual was "either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence."

As with all criminal matters, the burden of proof for this offense is with the district attorney and in order to meet that burden, the prosecution must show the following elements:

  • That the driver was operating the vehicle under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol;
  • That the driver negligently committed an unlawful act, or a lawful but dangerous act, in addition to driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol; and
  • That the driver's negligence caused the death of another.

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated in California

The California Penal Code (PC 191.5(a)) also defines the offense of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, which is considered to be more severe because it includes the element of gross negligence as it is associated with vehicular manslaughter. The burden of proof is again on the district attorney and it must be shown that:

  • You were driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol;
  • While you were driving under the influence, you committed an additional wrongful act;
  • You committed this additional wrongful act with the requisite gross negligence; and
  • Your grossly negligent wrongful act caused the death of another.

What is the difference?

The two laws differed due to the element of gross negligence, which means that "a person acts in this manner when he acts in a reckless manner that creates a high risk of death or bodily injury that a reasonable person would consider to be dangerous." Thus, the standard of gross negligence is considered to be at a higher level than that of simple carelessness or inattentiveness. Accordingly, these two crimes involve different penalties. Because gross vehicular manslaughter involves the additional element the penalty is generally more severe.

  • Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated: A sentence to a term in the county jail for no more than one year or a sentence of a prison term of 16 months, two or four years.
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated: A sentence to a term in prison of four, six, or 10 years.

However, as with most crimes, the penalty may be enhanced if you have been previously convicted of a similar charge or charges in the past. In accordance with the law, thus, should you be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated after having been previously convicted of the crime, the possible sentence may be imprisonment for a term of life with the opportunity to seek parole after serving 15 years.

Contact an attorney

If you are facing charges related to the offense DUI in the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno, Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County, do not think that your only choice is to plead guilty. Take a moment to contact Terry A. Wapner and schedule a consultation in order to discuss the facts of your case and be advised of your options.

What Happens Now?

Roadside arrest

It’s a frightening situation. You are arrested for DUI after submitting to a breathalyzer and participating in a couple of field sobriety tests. The officer confiscated your driver’s license and provided you with a temporary license. You were given a notice to appear in court in a few weeks. Now what? Fresno DUI attorney, Terry A. Wapner, can help you make sense of this situation, guide you through the process, and might be able to provide the defense that results in finding you Not Guilty!

Myths & Truths About DUI Charges


Myth: “There is nothing that a Fresno DUI defense lawyer can do.” Truth: Absolutely not true. Over the past 7-10 years, the conviction rate in California for DUI's is only around 70 percent. That means that 30 percent of the charges are being reduced to charges that are less than a DUI charge or not guilty verdicts are being returned. I have the ability and have won Fresno DUI cases. Do not give in to despair and believe that you are destined to lose. Entering a guilty plea to a DUI charge when the evidence against you can be challenged may result in an expensive mistake that could haunt you in the long run.