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Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated Offenses in California

It happens, people get behind the wheel after having too many alcoholic drinks, they get into an accident, and they end up killing one of their own passengers, another driver, a pedestrian, or a motorcyclist.

The drunk driver made a mistake, a big mistake. They never meant to hurt anyone, but they did. Not only is the victim’s family grieving, but so is the drunk driver; they are devastated.

In California, when impaired drivers kill innocent people in drunk or drugged-driving crashes, they are generally charged with either:

  • Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, or
  • Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated.

Under Sec. 191.5(a), Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated refers to the unintentional and unlawful killing of another human being while in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code.

In this case, the death was directly caused by the unlawful act, which did not amount to a felony, and was committed with gross negligence. Gross vehicular manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

Under Sec. 191.5(b), vehicular manslaughter is a lesser charge. Under this section, the driver accidentally killed another human being while in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153, but without the element of “gross negligence.”

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is punishable by 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years in prison.

Negligence vs. Gross Negligence

In California, when an impaired driver accidentally kills another person while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (the more serious of the two), or vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

For example, if a woman was driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% and she lost control of her car and slammed into a tree and killed her passenger, she will likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

On the other hand, if she had a BAC of .15%, ran several red lights and got into a head-on collision going the wrong way on a freeway, killing another driver, she would likely be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter because she acted with “gross negligence.”

When people acted only with ordinary negligence, they are usually charged with Penal Code 191.5(b), vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

Call the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry, Inc.

We hope this clarifies the difference between gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated in California. For further advice and legal representation, contact our office to meet with an Orange County DUI lawyer for free!