Commercial Vehicular Manslaughter: Killing Someone While Driving on the Job (Penal Code Sections 192 (c) and 191.5)
Truck, bus and taxi operators work where most of us drive. The streets are their offices. Commercial vehicle operators are statistically more likely than others to be involved in a traffic collision simply because they spend more time on the road.
If you drive a commercial vehicle for a living, you need to be aware of California Penal Code Sections 192 (c) and 191.5. These laws allow you to be charged with vehicular manslaughter if you kill someone while driving (PC 192(c)) or kill someone while driving intoxicated (PC 191.5).
If you are charged with vehicular manslaughter, you could face severe criminal consequences, including a jail or prison sentence, heavy fines and loss of your commercial license.
You could also be sued civilly by the family members of the victim in a wrongful death action.
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (PC 191.5)
Commercial drivers in California have a greater responsibility than other drivers when it comes to driving under the influence and are thus subject to increased criminal liability. This is because the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for someone driving a commercial vehicle is 0.04%, or half the legal limit of 0.08% for driving a passenger vehicle (Vehicle Code Section 23152(d)).
California law is very strict when it comes to driving under the influence. If you kill someone while driving intoxicated, you could be prosecuted for violating Penal Code Section 191.5 – vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Whether your case involved ordinary or gross negligence in relation to the severity of the circumstances of the case will determine whether you are charged with a misdemeanor or a felony violation of PC 191.5.
A Recent Example of Commercial Vehicular Manslaughter
A 27-year-old commercial truck driver from California is being charged with vehicular homicide in Oregon following a three-month investigation into a fatal traffic accident on Interstate 5.1
Gurpinder Singh, of Red Bluff, Calif., was arrested Feb. 12 by the Tehama County Sheriff’s Office in Northern California. He was wanted on a fugitive warrant out of Marion County, Ore., where the accident occurred.2
On Nov. 4, 2013, at about 5:00 p.m., a crash was reported involving two commercial trucks and a passenger vehicle that had been crushed underneath a truck tractor on the highway.3
The driver of the passenger vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. Pending the investigation, the truck driver left the state of Oregon and returned home to Red Bluff.4
Singh was charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter under Oregon law, which would constitute vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in California. If he is convicted, the California truck driver faces up to 10 years in prison.5
Manslaughter means the killing of another person without malice – which means you caused someone’s death without an evil intent.
Vehicular manslaughter under Penal Code Section 192(c) means that while driving a vehicle you killed someone and:
- You committed an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or a lawful act; and
- You exhibited ordinary or gross negligence; or
- You drove in a dangerous manner which might produce death; or
- You knowingly caused a collision for financial gain.
Ordinary and Gross Negligence Defined
Ordinary negligence means failure to use reasonable care that an ordinary prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation to prevent a foreseeable injury to another person. For example, momentary inattention to driving while reaching into your glove compartment box could be considered ordinary negligence.
Gross negligence is carelessness that is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others (i.e. rapidly changing lanes at an excessive rate of speed). Essentially, this means you don’t care what happens.
How Can You Be Charged with Violating PC 192(c)?
A prosecutor may charge you with vehicular manslaughter if you killed someone while driving and you were distracted. For example:
- You were eating, reading or putting on make-up;
- You were looking for something inside the car;
- You were texting on a wireless device; or
- You were talking on your cellphone (not using a Bluetooth device);
Additionally, you can be charged if you were being reckless. Being reckless includes acts such as:
- You were speeding;
- You were erratically swerving in and out of lanes;
- You drove through a red light neglecting to look for pedestrians or other cars; or
- You staged an accident to fraudulently collect on an insurance claim.
Sentencing and Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. If you are convicted, you can be sentenced as follows:
PC 192 (c)(1): Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a “wobbler” offense, which means the prosecutor has the option of charging you with either a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor conviction carries up to one year in jail. A felony conviction is a strike and can lead to a prison sentence of two, four or six years.
PC 192 (c)(2): Vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in county jail.
PC 192 (c)(3): Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain is a felony, punishable by 4, 6 or 10 years in prison.
Additionally, if there are any surviving victims who suffered great bodily injury, you face an additional and consecutive three-to-six-year prison sentence for each injured person. Also, a fine of up to $1,000 may be imposed for a misdemeanor conviction and up to $10,000 for a felony conviction.
Sentencing and Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated involves ordinary negligence and is considered a “wobbler” offense (PC 191.5 (b)). A prosecutor has the option of charging you with either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on:
- The facts of the case, and
- Your prior criminal history.
A felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is punishable by 16 months, or two or four years in jail plus a maximum fine of $10,000. For a misdemeanor conviction, you can be sentenced to one year in jail plus a maximum fine of $1,000.
Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated involves gross negligence and is a more severe charge (PC 191 (a)). This crime is always charged as a felony and is considered a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes Law. If you are convicted of this crime, you face:
- Up to 10 years in prison for a first offense; or
- 15 years to life in prison if you have a prior PC 191.5 or PC 192(c)(1) conviction or prior DUI convictions; and
- If there are any surviving victims who suffered great bodily injury, you face an additional and consecutive three-to-six-year prison sentence for each injured person.
Alternatively, California law permits a prosecutor to charge you with second-degree murder (known as a DUI or “Watson” murder) in the event you kill someone while driving intoxicated and you have a prior history of convictions related to driving under the influence.
In this case, malice is implied because you knew or should have known that it is dangerous to human life to drive while intoxicated yet you did so consciously and without regard for the safety of others.
Wallin & Klarich Can Help You Fight a Vehicular Manslaughter Charge
If you or someone you care about has been charged with committing vehicular manslaughter, you should speak to one of our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich as soon as possible. Our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have over 40 years of experience successfully defending clients facing vehicular homicide charges.
Our skilled team of criminal defense attorneys may make the difference between a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you and a conviction resulting in jail time and other serious consequences
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide you with the very best legal representation. We will help you get the best possible result in your case.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.