As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

There isn’t anything quite as freeing as driving a car, but its flip-side carries a lot of weight. A moving vehicle has the ability to cause significant injury or even death, and so any amount of negligence resulting in harm to others is a very serious matter.

Whether it occurred through no fault of your own or as a result of negligence, each circumstance is unique and carries its varying degrees of potential repercussions.

In California, the laws and penalties resulting in death are codified under the state’s vehicular manslaughter law in Penal Code 192(c). It defines manslaughter as driving a vehicle with ordinary negligence that results in the unlawful death of another person.

It can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony, making it a wobbler. A clean criminal record and other considerations can make all the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge, click here for more information on wobblers. (Involuntary manslaughter involves a different set of considerations, see our homicide page.)


Often referred to as vehicular homicide because it involves a death, its sentencing is a lot different than other types of manslaughter, including involuntary and voluntary.

And while all other homicide is determined by the state of mind of the killer (premeditated vs. not), the major factor determining the degree of seriousness of vehicular manslaughter is the amount of negligence.

But first, let’s go over the elements of a vehicular manslaughter charge with ordinary negligence:

  1. You committed an infraction, misdemeanor or even what would have been a lawful act while driving that was dangerous to human life AND ALSO
  2. You acted with what constitutes as ordinary negligence AND ALSO
  3. It resulted in the death of another person.


Ordinary negligence is typically seen as inattention or a careless mistake where the lack of reasonable care resulted in the death of someone else (unintentional vehicular manslaughter).

Examples of ordinary negligence include:

  1. Accidentally running a stop sign or stop light due to inattention to the light change and hitting another car, causing death;
  2. Sending a text message and pulling out in front of a car and getting sideswiped as a result, causing the death of your passenger; (If your passenger doesn’t buckle up, it’s your fault as the driver.) or
  3. Speeding at 10-15 over the speed limit, or being under the legal alcohol limit with a BAC of under .08 and hitting someone, resulting in a death.

Gross negligence takes it a step further with willful or reckless disregard for reasonable care. This ups the ante, and often includes drugs and alcohol.

Examples of gross negligence include:

  1. Speeding at 100 miles per hour on the freeway and causing a crash resulting in death;
  2. Being well over the legal limit of .08 and driving, causing a death resulting crash; or
  3. Doing several negligent things at once, such as text messaging, speeding, and being under the slight influence of alcohol at the same time.


Anytime you’re dealing with death, there is no such thing as a typical sentence. But it does matter what your reputation and past record hold. For example, a person with a clean criminal history will likely get a mitigated sentence compared to someone with known gang involvement and/or convictions on his/her record.

The distinction between a misdemeanor sentence and a felony sentence is the amount of time served. The maximum misdemeanor jail time, even with gross negligence, is one year in county jail. For a felony vehicular manslaughter charge, the maximum sentence is 6 years in state prison.

This is also where ordinary negligence really comes into play, because it’s typically grounds for a misdemeanor. However, there are always circumstances that can bump up the crime.

For instance, you will likely have an aggravated sentence if you flee the scene of the accident, caused the accident for financial gain, or killed a police officer. While the years vary for these, it can instantly turn an otherwise misdemeanor into a felony (and a strike!).


A DUI causing death is very serious, especially with a prior conviction. If you’ve had one DUI, you get a murder advisement where you’re warned if you drink any amount and drive again and someone accidentally dies, you are charged as if you intended it.

This is where rehabilitation and other efforts to improve your life are key. Whether this is your first DUI charge or not, what you do next is paramount to being able to build a case for your character beyond this unfortunate incident. You are so much more likely to get a positive outcome if you act BEFORE you get charged with something like gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, so seek Proper Defense now.


You need an attorney to help you prove what you already know. From character letters to a clean criminal history (or one that you’ve been determined to put behind you), we will help mitigate the punishment. More importantly, we’ll help you address any underlying issues affecting your life.

Find a successful end to your search for ‘lawyers near me’ with Proper Defense, one of the most compassionate Fresno law firms in the criminal justice space according to dozens of reviews on Avvo, an online Fresno attorney directory. While often sought as a Fresno lawyer, Proper Defense serves the Greater Central Valley area, including Clovis, Coalinga, Kingsburg, Hanford, Madera, Merced, Porterville, Reedley, Sanger, Selma, and Tulare. Contact us today for an initial consultation at (559) 825-3800 or schedule an appointment online
on our ‘Contact Us’ page. It gets better with Proper Defense, we promise.

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