Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated Can Happen to Anyone Who Has A Drink and Drives

It was a great night out. Friends, food, drinks, laughter, stories of the old days…all of the elements of a perfect evening.

The two glasses of wine you had during dinner were enough to keep you smiling and maybe keep your face warm, but you didn’t “feel it”; you were not impaired, much less drunk. When the valet opened your door and you tipped him the five bucks, you felt fine. As the restaurant faded in the rearview mirror, you felt fine. When you glanced down for a moment to change the radio station, you felt fine. It was not your fault that the pedestrian stepped into the roadway without looking…but it is your problem.

If You Are DUI, You Are at Fault

In California, when it comes to drivers who have a BAC of 0.08% or greater, there are no such things as accidents. If you are involved in an accident while DUI, you are at fault. Period.

If, as a result of the accident for which the law says you were at fault (even if you weren’t) and someone is killed, you will face DUI Manslaughter charges. The BIG question is, will you be charged under PC §191.5(b) – Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated or PC §191.5(a) – GROSS Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated?

California PC §191.5(a) GROSS Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated

This count will be charged when the prosecuting agency believes you were acting with “…gross negligence…” leading up to the accident. To determine whether your conduct elevated to the level of “gross” negligence, prosecutors will look to see whether you were acting with “…reckless disregard…” for human life. Maybe you were operating your vehicle at an excessive speed, or you were blowing through stop lights or stop signs or if you were driving on the opposite side of the roadway. Each of these may be considered reckless disregard.

A felony conviction for PC §191.5(a) GROSS vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated could result in a State Prison sentence ranging from four to ten years.

On the other hand, “simple” vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated as codified under PC §191.5(b) (without gross negligence), while serious, tries to recognize mitigating factors.

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under PC §191.5(b) is a “wobbler.” That means it can be charged by the prosecutor as either a felony or a misdemeanor offense. The prosecuting agency has broad discretion to make such a determination. In doing so, the agency will look at a variety of factors, such as the events leading up to the accident; the BAC; any criminal history the defendant may have, etc.

Even if a driver is arrested and booked by police for felony PC §191.5(b), the prosecuting agency could file it as only a misdemeanor. The opposite is also true. Even if law enforcement believes the offense only rises to the level of a misdemeanor, the prosecutor can file it in court as a felony.

The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor conviction under PC §191.5(b) is one year in county jail and, depending on which county it is, that year could actually be just a matter of a few months or less.

How Much Is Bail for PC §191.5(b)

It is not uncommon for law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to book or file felony charges knowing they will later be reduced. This gives them more leeway to negotiate a disposition, I suppose, but can be unnecessarily stressful and expensive for defendants. Nevertheless, whether the driver is arrested and booked as a misdemeanor or a felony could have a profound affect of the cost of bail.

In Long Beach (Los Angeles County), for example, the bail for misdemeanor PC §191.5(b) vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated without gross negligence starts at $25,000. The bail for PC §191.5(b) as a felony starts at $50,000. Most bail bonds companies charge roughly 10% for a bond. That means you could be paying from $2,500 to $5,000 for bail alone. When searching for the right bail company, look for a company that answers your questions and does not try to hard sell you. Hard-selling in the bail business is a bad sign.

Consider using social media to check ratings and reviews. There are some very reputable, reliable, and honest bail companies…and there are some very shady ones, too. Don’t just go with the first one you talk to. It is okay to shop around for a company that “feels” right.

Should You Post Bail After Being Arrested for PC §191.5(b)?

Whether to post bail is both a personal and financial decision. There are reasons to bail out, of course, but there are also reasons not to.

Reasons to Post Bail

Jail sucks. Jail is no place to spend any appreciable amount of time. The food is crappy, the guards tend not to be very nice, fellow inmates can be difficult to deal with (to say the least), and it is incredibly uncomfortable. Those seem to be the most obvious reasons.

The biggest and best reason to post bail is that it is much easier to assist in your defense from home rather than from a jail cell. Defending PC §191.5(b) cases can be tricky (who am I kidding, it is darn complicated) and your Long Beach DUI lawyer will most definitely benefit from your ability to assist in strategy and execution of a good defense from the outside of a jail.

Another good reason to bail out is that it affords you the opportunity to get to work on contrition and mitigation. We will talk about that later.

Reasons Not to Post Bail After a PC 191.5(b) Arrest

Expense is probably the number one reason people don’t bail out after being arrested for PC §191.5(b). It’s easy to appreciate that a $2,500 to $5,000 expense out of nowhere can be impractical or impossible for most people. Even when payment plans are available, many people don’t like the idea of accruing debt.

There are other reasons you may want to not post bail on a PC §191.5(b) case in Long Beach or the surrounding area. For starters, if financial resources are limited and you have to choose between posting bail and hiring a skilled DUI lawyer to represent you, many would say that the money is better spent on a DUI attorney who may be able to argue to a judge to let you out of jail on your Own Recognizance (your promise to appear in court later).

Another reason not to post bail is that law enforcement agencies tend to be overworked and understaffed and, if the arrest and accident reports are not ready to be filed with the prosecutor and court within 48 hours, the police have no choice but to let you go without posting bail.

Keep in mind, the 48 hours does not include weekends and holidays, so if you are arrested on a Thursday or Friday and court is closed on Monday, you could be in custody for several days before being taken to court or released.

What To Do While You Wait For Your Court Date

Once you are out of police custody and you have hired a DUI lawyer you can trust, there are a few things you can do to help your lawyer and yourself later in court. Prosecutors and judges like to see contrition; they want to know that YOU know how serious a PC §191.5(b) charge is and attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings is a great place to start.

Whenever we take on a PC §191.5(b) case or any critical DUI case, we provide meeting attendance log sheets for our clients to take to as many AA meetings as they can attend and log before and between court appearances throughout the life of the case. We have seen great results by showing up to court with dozens of AA meetings completed before the first appearance and more at each subsequent appearance.

Another thing a defendant facing PC §191.5(b) charges can do while the case is playing out in court is volunteer for agencies or charities that focus on DUI or alcohol/drug related causes. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) are two respectable organizations that welcome volunteers.

MADD also hosts Victim Impact Panels where attendees hear from victims and families about DUI related tragedies. The goal of these programs is to assist DUI offenders to “…recognize and internalize…” the long-lasting effects of impaired driving. The idea is to instill empathy for victims and an understanding of the heartbreak DUI causes. Participants are expectantly left with changes in thinking and hopefully behavior so as to prevent future tragedy.

How to Defend a PC §191.5(b) Case in And Around Long Beach

Defending a PC §191.5(b) case starts like any other: with the arrest and accident reports.

Based on the arrest and accident reports, what “facts” does the defense have to work with from the prosecutor’s perspective? How do those “facts” differ from what really happened? What do the police “say” happened versus what “actually” happened? Who are the witnesses and what did they “say” they saw and are their stories consistent? The list of things to evaluate in arrest and accident reports is virtually endless and a skilled DUI manslaughter attorney will know what to look for and where to find it buried within pages and pages of reports.

Like any other criminal case, prosecutors have to be able prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of PC §191.5(b) vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence while intoxicated, the prosecution must prove that:

  1. The defendant operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage and/or a drug; or (21 years or older) operated a motor vehicle while having a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher (0.05% for drivers under 21 years old); AND
  2. While operating the vehicle under the influence (as described above), the defendant also committed some unlawful act [misdemeanor or infraction] or otherwise lawful act that might cause death; AND
  3. The defendant committed the act with ordinary negligence; AND
  4. The defendant’s negligent conduct caused the death of another person.

A skilled DUI lawyer will try to unravel each one of those elements by asking (and trying to answer) several questions:

  • Can the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was driving?
  • Can the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was either impaired or had a BAC of 0.08% or higher (0.05% for drivers under 21 years old)?
  • Can the prosecution prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed some unlawful or negligent act?
  • And was it the defendant’s act that caused the death or was there another cause?

The answers to these questions will be found in the reports and videos and photos and medical records and witness statements and a variety of other places that a good DUI lawyer will know to look and for what. Even though a case might look hopeless from a distance, when you look carefully and closely, the individual pieces may not be so bad.

How Much Will It Cost to Defend a §191.5(b) Case?

For attorney’s fees alone, you can be looking at a flat fee anywhere from about $5,000 up to as much as $20,000 or more depending on the lawyer and on the complexity of the case. Be very careful to make sure you know what is included BEFORE you hire any lawyer and be VERY wary of DUI lawyers who charge by the hour. Most Long Beach DUI lawyers don’t charge by the hour but be cautious about those that do. The hours can add up very quickly in a §191.5(b) case and the middle of a vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated case is no place to be stuck fighting with a lawyer over money. The flat fee for the misdemeanor should include all court appearances, all office work, and jury or bench trial.

Things like expert witnesses, accident reconstruction, or forensic analysis will cost extra and not be included in your attorney’s fee, however those expenses may be well worth it if it opens a viable avenue for defense. The costs on those things are too variable to try and quote here.

What Other Expenses Come with a PC §191.5(b) Case?

If you plead or are found guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under PC §191.5(b) in Long Beach or the surrounding area, you can expect the fines and mandatory fees to exceed $2,000 - $3,000 alone. On top of the statutory fines and fees there will be classes and other requirements of probation that all cost money – potentially hundreds. In addition to fines and fees and classes and other probation costs, the court will no doubt order restitution.

Restitution is the dollar amount necessary to compensate the victim(s) for the actual monetary loss that resulted from the accident. For example, if it costs $1,000 to fix the vehicle you damaged in the accident, the restitution would be $1,000. Restitution covers other things like property damage, lost wages, medical expenses, etc. If you have insurance, whatever your insurance pays can offset the costs of restitution (that’s why you should always have maximum insurance).

When it comes to pain and suffering, that is not generally included in restitution. Those kinds of damages are usually reserved for civil actions (lawsuits against you); another reason to carry lots of insurance.

Should You Answer Police Questions About the Case?

NO!! Any time someone is killed in a traffic accident, regardless of whether DUI is involved, the investigation is very comprehensive and can take days or even weeks to conclude. Usually, the law enforcement officers on the scene only gather the preliminary information, measurements, and such then pass everything off to a detective to continue and complete the investigation.

It can be days or even weeks later when you get a call from a detective telling you that they are almost finished with the investigation, but they still have a few questions. The answer is NO! Nothing good can come from you answering police questions – especially when the purpose of those questions is to get YOU to make admissions that will be used against you.

The best response to a detective’s (or any officer’s) questions is this: “Thank you for reaching out. However, on the advice of counsel, I am invoking my right to remain silent and I will not answer any questions unless my lawyer is present.” The detective will be mad, but we are not in the business of pleasing detectives; we are in the business of protecting your rights.

The detective may reply with something like: “…you are not under arrest…” That doesn’t matter. Your right to remain silent exists regardless of whether you are under arrest. They only have to tell you about it after they arrest you.

The detective may also say something like: “…we already know it was not your fault [or you didn’t mean to do it], we just need to get a couple things cleared up so we can close the case.” Yeah! What that means is: they don’t have enough information to convict you yet and they need YOU to provide it. Don’t do it; you do not owe them anything. Also, “…so we can close the case…” means “…so we can hand the case off to the prosecutor who will file criminal charges against you.”

What If I Only Have Marijuana in My System?

A DUI in California does not discriminate between alcohol and marijuana or other drugs. When a driver is impaired by any substance he or she knowingly consumed, DUI charges can be brought.

However, meeting the burden of proof on a PC §191.5(b) DUI manslaughter case that results from marijuana or another drug instead of just alcohol, is more challenging for a prosecutor. For marijuana and other drugs, there is no set number that establishes impairment or sets a limit like there is with alcohol. Instead, the prosecutor must show through circumstantial evidence that you were in fact impaired at the time of the accident. They will argue that the Field Sobriety Test (FST) results indicate impairment. A skilled DUI defense lawyer will know how to undo those arguments. For starters, the FSTs used by law enforcement were created by law enforcement and have been shown to have minimal correlation to driving. Moreover, the so-called tests are designed to show clues to alcohol impairment, not drug impairment. Any good DUI lawyer can explain to a jury that the symptoms of impairment can be quite different depending on the substance.

Find the Right DUI Manslaughter Lawyer

Putting everything else aside, fighting a PC 191.5(b) case requires a DUI lawyer with talent, skill, and the willingness and ability to see what nobody else can when looking at reports. For the defendant, the process will be lengthy and frightening. Look for a DUI manslaughter lawyer who makes you feel comfortable and confident about the process; someone who will listen and understand that it is more than just a case, it is your life.

Find yourself a DUI manslaughter lawyer who understands that, in addition to dealing with a criminal case, you are a human being who is accused of taking a life. Look for a lawyer who recognizes and respects the kind of guilt you must be feeling and will match it with compassion and understanding.

Talk to more than one lawyer. Ask them all the questions you can think of. When you meet the right one, you will know.

Securing DUI Manslaughter Legal Help Near Me

If you or someone you care about is facing PC §191.5(b) charges or any DUI offense, give Long Beach DUI Attorney a call at 562-206-2012 and let us talk with you. We will take the time to answer your questions and, hopefully, put you at ease. Even if you hire a different lawyer, that’s okay, it will be our pleasure to speak with you and consultations are always free and completely confidential.