What Makes Vehicular Manslaughter “Gross?”


In my last post, I mentioned a Murrieta woman who was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.  I thought it would be appropriate to explain the differences between vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

California Penal Code section 191.5(b) sets the definition of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated:

“Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.”

This essentially means that to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated the prosecution needs to prove that you:

1.  drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs pursuant to 23140, 23152, or 23153,

2.  committed an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, without gross negligence,

OR

2.   committed a lawful act that might produce death in an unlawful manner, without gross negligence, and

3.  the act proximately caused the death of another person.

Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated, on the other hand, is defined by California Penal Code section 191.5(a):

“Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.”

This statute and the requisite elements are essentially the same as 191.5(b) with the exception that it includes committing an unlawful act (not a felony) with gross negligence OR committing a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, with gross negligence.

So what is “gross negligence?”  When a person acts with gross negligence, they act in a reckless manner that creates a high risk of death or bodily injury that a reasonable person would recognize as dangerous. This standard is higher than mere inattentiveness or carelessness.

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