A 28-year-old man has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence while intoxicated, and two felony counts of DUI, after losing control and crashing his truck head-on into a concrete bridge abutment in Santa Ana. His friend, who was a passenger in his vehicle, died in the accident. He is also facing sentence enhancements because he has a prior conviction for driving under the influence.
Vehicular Manslaughter, while intoxicated, is a felony punishable up to 10 years in State Prison. However, in certain circumstance, the punishment can be more severe. In California, we have what is known as DUI Sentence Enhancements. This means that a sentence can be increased, depending upon the enhancement(s). Sentence enhancements in DUI cases include, prior convictions, a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher, test refusal and speeding and/or reckless driving.
The crime of Felony DUI falls into three categories: vehicular homicide, manslaughter or second-degree murder. Vehicular homicide is charged when, as a result of ordinary negligence, a death occurs. Manslaughter with gross negligence is charged when the death is the result of criminal negligence. Criminal negligence, as it relates to drunk driving basically means that the individual had the knowledge that their actions were likely to result in death. Second-degree murder can be charged when there is a death and the person who was drinking and driving acted with “implied malice” or a conscious disregard for life. Second-degree murder is not usually charged in a DUI / DWI case because it is difficult to establish implied malice.
However, if the person has prior DUI convictions, the prosecution can use this to establish that the defendant knew the dangers of drunk driving. In Orange County, when a person pleads guilty to DUI, they must admit in court or in writing, that they understand the dangers of drunk driving, this is known as a “Watson Warning“. The prosecution can use this as evidence if they decide to prosecute for second-degree murder.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with gross negligence can result in the following penalties: UP to 1 year in county jail, or 4,6, or 10 years in state prison. However, with one or more priors, it can be 15 years to life in state prison.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, without gross negligence caries the penalties of up to 1 year in county jail, or 16 months, 2 or 4 years in state prison.
Fortunately, there are defenses to Felony DUI, or Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated. In this situation, a good Orange County DUI Attorney should look at the possible defenses to vehicular manslaughter. Challenging the validity of the breath or blood test results, as well as challenging police procedures and/or misconduct must always be looked at. Some other defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated include: Rather than gross negligence, that the defendant acted with regular negligence; that the negligence what not what caused the death. That the acts of another person or forces beyond your control such as road conditions or weather were the cause of the accident and/or death. Accident Reconstruction Experts are often used when this type of defense is being offered.
A conviction for Felony DUI can carry long lasting effects on a person’s life and for that reason, it is important for anyone facing this type of conviction, to have experienced legal representation. A good Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney, who has expertise in DUI arrests, will make every effort to have the charges reduced. A key factor in choosing a DUI attorney in Orange County, is to look for an attorney who is familiar with the Court in which the case is pending, as well as the other Courts in Orange County. A good relationship with the Judges, District Attorneys, Court Clerks and other personnel can influence a positive outcome and ensure that you get the best possible result.
Anyone who has been arrested for Felony DUI, Driving Under the Influence or Drunk Driving, needs an attorney who is skilled and will gather the appropriate evidence, know how to use it intelligently and efficiently, and render the best possible outcome for their client.
If you would like to know more about Driving Under the Influence, contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William M. Weinberg at his Irvine, California office at 949-474-8008 or at www.williamweinberg.com.