Traffic accidents produce dozens of fatalities and injured victims. You commit an offense of hit and run by causing an accident and failing to stop at the scene to do your duty. Every road user has to stay at the scene of the accident until the police officers arrive to take a statement. The severity of the charges you face after escaping an accident scene before authorities arrive depends on the severity of the accident you caused. If you acted in negligence, committed an offense of hit and run, causing death, you are likely to face charges for vehicular manslaughter alongside hit and run. You will require legal guidance from The Law Offices of Fountain and Hattersley if you or your loved one is battling these criminal charges in Pasadena.
Overview of Hit and Run Vehicular Manslaughter
Hit and run vehicular manslaughter is a charge you will face if you negligently caused the death of another person while driving and escaped from the scene. Escaping from an accident scene is a serious offense, especially when the accident you caused resulted in severe bodily injury or death. A hit and run accident occurs when you create an accident then flee the accident scene before informing the police. Calling the authorities allows the officers to report on how the accident occurred, as reported by all involved parties. If you are involved in a traffic accident, you are expected to:
- Remain at the accident scene and wait for the police to arrive
- Help out the injured parties by calling emergency responders
- Providing identification information. Every driver that gets involved in the accident needs to provide their driver’s license number contact and your insurance information. This will help establish fault and determine the person to compensate victims of the accident
Failure to stop or provide information is likely to result from hitting and running charges. The reasons why most drivers flee from an accident scene include:
- Driving a stolen vehicle. When a driver does not have a valid California driver’s license or is driving a stolen car, they may get tempted to flee an accident scene.
- You were escaping from the police for a crime previously committed. When a person is escaping from the police for a crime that they recently committed, they may tend to flee even after causing a severe accident. This is often the case when the offense for which they are running is serious.
- Drunk driving. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is one of the major contributing factors of drivers fleeing after an accident. When a driver’s convict is influenced by alcohol, they may not realize that they caused an accident and thus fail to stop at the scene.
- The driver is transporting illegal goods. Individuals who are illegally in the state or are ferrying illegal goods could fail to stop after an accident to avoid an arrest.
- Failure to realize that the accident occurred is one of the causes of leaving after a crash. In cases where a driver is over speeding, they may fail to recognize that an accident has occurred. Even in such a situation you can get charged with hit and run
A prosecutor must establish these elements when showing an aspect of a hit and run situation in your case:
- You were involved in a traffic accident while driving.
- The accident caused death or severe injury to another person.
- You had a reason to know of your involvement in the accident and that you caused the death.
- You willfully failed to stop and perform your duties towards other involved parties.
In most cases, an accident that resulted in death is charged as a felony. However, under certain circumstances, you can get charged with hit and run vehicular manslaughter. This will attract more legal severe penalties should you get convicted. Before the aspect of manslaughter is introduced in your criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the following elements;
- You were driving a vehicle, and while doing so, you committed an unlawful act that could have resulted in severe bodily injury or death of another person. You cannot get charged with vehicular manslaughter if it is not clear that you were driving at the time of the accident.
- Your actions posed some danger to the lives of other people. Before a vehicular manslaughter charge becomes stable, it must be clear that your driving conduct posed a direct threat to the life of other road users.
- You acted with gross or ordinary negligence when driving. Ordinary negligence is careless behavior that could cause injuries. However, acting in a way that poses a high risk to human life is considered gross negligence. When the aspect of negligence is not proven in your case, you cannot face hit and run vehicular manslaughter charges.
- You caused the death of a third party. You could not face vehicular manslaughter charges if you caused an accident that resulted in bodily injuries or property damage without death. If you flee an accident scene, but the victims did not die, you cannot get charged for hit and run vehicular manslaughter.
Not all accident deaths result in charges for vehicular manslaughter. If you caused an accident that caused death and fled the scene, it is not necessarily considered an act of murder. In California, the following kind of driving will trigger vehicular manslaughter charges:
In California, ordinary and gross negligence from the driver is a fact that supports vehicular manslaughter charges. Ordinary negligence is driving conduct that disregards the safety of other people. Gross negligence, on the other hand, is the reckless disregard for human life.
Drunk driving is one of the contributing factors to fatal accidents in California. You can get charged for vehicular manslaughter if you cause an accident that results in death when driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs. This is because drunk driving results in recklessness. In California, intoxication is proven by testimony from witnesses or self-incriminating statements.
After an arrest, you may be required to submit to blood tests to verify intoxication. In California, a driver is considered to be drunk driving if the blood alcohol content exceeds 0.08%. You can also get charged with vehicular manslaughter based on intoxication if your driving conduct was influenced by alcohol or drugs.
Many traffic accidents occur when drivers are distracted. Distracted driving may be physical or mental. If you are falling asleep on the wheel, you may find it challenging to make vital decisions on the road. Sleeping while driving could be a result of fatigue caused by failure to adhere to rest hours for drivers. Also, reaching out to get something or texting takes your attention off the road and causes an accident. In most cases, distracted driving is voluntary and could attract charges for vehicular manslaughter
Violation of Traffic and Safety Rules
You can get charged with vehicular manslaughter when you violate safety rules and cause a fatal accident. There are specific speed limits and traffic safety rules that you need to exercise. You should also respect the rights of other drivers and road users. Failure to follow the safety rules is considered an act of negligence and can attract criminal charges. Most drivers who flee after an accident, do so in fear of getting arrested for violating safety rules.
Getting arrested and facing charges for this offense could be devastating. This is because a conviction will result in severe legal and personal consequences. Therefore, it would be wise to consult a competent criminal defense as soon as possible to guide you through the legal processes. With proper justification, one of the charges could be dropped, causing lesser penalties after a conviction.
Penalties for Hit and Run Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter is a serious offense in California. Fleeing the accident scene after causing an accident could increase the severity of the penalties you receive after a conviction. Also, the nature of the charges plays a role in sentencing. Vehicular manslaughter could get charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident and death. If the prosecutor can establish that you committed an offense of vehicular manslaughter and fled the scene, you will face the following consequences for a misdemeanor conviction:
- Misdemeanor probation
- A jail sentence of up to one year
- Fines not exceeding a thousand dollars
For a felony conviction, you are likely to face:
- Felony probation. If you get sentenced to felony probation in California, you are required to adhere to all rules of probation. Failure to do so could get you arrested and charged with probation violation. Some of the regulations imposed for a probation sentence include regular check-ins with a probation officer and avoiding involvement in other crimes.
- A prison sentence of up to six years is imposed after a felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter.
- Fines of up to ten thousand dollars
- An addition of five years in prison for fleeing the accident scene is imposed after a conviction for this offense.
- Driver’s License suspension. If you get convicted for hit and run vehicular manslaughter, you risk losing your driving privileges. This occurs in a suspension or revocation of your driver’s license by the Department of Motor Vehicle. The period of license revocation for this offense is often three years, and you cannot get the license reinstated before the period ends.
Even when the prosecutor is not able to establish that you were negligent, you may still get convicted for fleeing an accident scene before carrying out your duties. In California, hit and run can be charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. The nature of the charge depends on the circumstances of the case. Also, your criminal history plays a role in determining the sentence. If you caused the death of another person during a hit and run, you will get charged with a felony and face the following penalties:
- A prison sentence of up to four years
- Fines not exceeding ten thousand dollars
- Driver’s license suspension. When the Department of Motor Vehicles Comes to learn of your conviction for hit and run, they will attempt to take action on your driver’s license. Regardless of the nature of your sentence, a hit and run attracts six months to three years of license revocation in California.
- Civil penalties. If you are convicted of a hit and run, causing death, the family of the deceased is likely to file a wrongful death lawsuit against you.
Legal Defenses Against Hit and Run Vehicular Manslaughter
There are several legal defenses that a competent criminal defense attorney can help you present when facing these charges:
You Did not Act Negligently
Negligence is one of the main factors that constitute a vehicular manslaughter charge. A prosecutor is required to prove that you acted negligently, and the actions posed a threat to the life of others. Both gross and ordinary negligence is quite challenging to prove. You can argue that you made decisions that were essential when driving but weren’t necessarily negligent with the guidance of a competent attorney.
California laws state that a driver who finds themselves in an emergency should act with the same care that a reasonable person would under the circumstances. If you acted accordingly, you could not be considered negligent. This could help reduce your potential penalties or dismiss the vehicular manslaughter case leaving you with charges escaping the accident scene which have fewer consequences.
Your Actions Was Not the Cause of Death
Before you get convicted for vehicular manslaughter, your negligence should have been a significant contributing factor to death. Determining the cause of death after a traffic accident could be complicated, especially when multiple parties are involved. Therefore, it would be difficult to prove that the death was a direct consequence of your actions. Your attorney could help you dispute the prosecutor’s account of the happenings.
You Were not Driving the Vehicle.
You can use the no driving defense for your case if you are facing criminal charges for hit and run vehicular manslaughter. In most cases, the witnesses may identify the vehicle, but it could be difficult to verify who was driving at the time of the accident. A defense to your claim, you can argue that you are not the person who was driving the vehicle; thus, you cannot have committed the offense. If doubt is created in the fact that you were driving, you can get a lesser sentence, or your charges could get dismissed.
You Fled to Escape Danger
You get charged with vehicular manslaughter and fleeing after an accident when you fail to stop after causing a negligent road accident. If the hit and run aspect of the case is eliminated, you can only get convicted for vehicular manslaughter. Many reasons cause drivers to flee the accident scene, including intoxication, fear of arrest, among others. As a defense to your case, you can claim that you left the scene because it wasn’t safe for you to remain there. You can also try to argue that there was an emergency, and you did not realize that you caused an accident.
Offenses Related to Hit and Run Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter is a serious offense that attracts severe penalties after a conviction in California. The following are some offenses that could get charged alongside or instead of hit and run vehicular manslaughter in California:
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Under California Penal Code 191.5(b), vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated occurs when your drunk driving negligent behavior causes the death of another person. If you were drunk driving at the time of the hit and run vehicular manslaughter, you can face additional charges for violating Penal Code 191.5 (b) before a conviction. The following elements need to be established:
You operated an automobile under drug or alcohol influence. Drunk driving is shown with the results of your blood and breath tests taken before and during an arrest. Also, witnesses who were present at the accident scene could attest to your drunk driving behavior. Before you get convicted for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:
- You operated a motor vehicle while under alcohol influence. This fact is established using your blood alcohol content, or the use of drugs influences your driving conduct.
- While driving, you committed an offense. The unlawful acts that are considered during sentencing for vehicular manslaughter do not need to be felonies.
- You acted in ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence is the failure to use reasonable care to prevent causing harm to other people. If you acted in a way that a reasonable person wouldn’t, you are considered negligent.
- You caused the death of another person. Manslaughter charges are often based on death. If you caused an accident that resulted in injuries, but no one died, you cannot get charged under California Penal Code 191.5. However, your actions do not have to be the only factor causing death. As long as it was a direct consequence, you can get convicted.
In California, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a wobbler and the penalties depend on your criminal history and circumstances. If the offense is charged as a misdemeanor, you will face summary probation and a jail sentence of up to one year.
However, when hit and run are involved, the offense is charged as a felony and will attract the following legal penalties:
- A prison sentence of up to ten years
- Felony Probation
- Fines of up to $10,000
You can try to eliminate the hit-and-run aspect of hit and run vehicular manslaughter with the help of a competent criminal defense attorney. In this case, you can get charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
California Penal Code 186 – Murder
Under California law, murder is the killing of another person with malice afterthought. If you fled the accident scene after vehicular manslaughter, your actions might be mistaken. The court may assume you just fled since you had an intention to kill the person. This is often the case when hit and run vehicular manslaughter results from a pedestrian accident. Therefore, you may find yourself facing charges for murder.
Murder could either be the first second or third-degree depending on the circumstances under which it occurred. The elements of murder that are essential during your trial include:
- Unlawful killing. You could not get charged with murder if you did not cause the death of another person regardless of the extent of injuries you caused.
- Malice afterthought. Under California law, a malice afterthought is an apparent disregard for human life. Also, ill will or hatred may not be required to prove these elements. As long as your actions had a high probability of causing death, you can get convicted for murder. A conviction for murder attracts severe legal penalties ranging from twenty-five years to life imprisonment. The type and severity of your sentence may depend on the number of victims who died. Also, the presence of injuries on people who survived the accident gets consideration.
If you are facing murder charges as an addition to hit and run vehicular manslaughter, you would greatly benefit from competent legal representation. Your attorney could help you disregard hit and run and eliminate the possibility of murder charges.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Vehicular manslaughter is a serious offense in California. Fleeing the accident scene will only increase the severity of these charges. However, before you get charged with vehicular homicide, an incidence of negligence is proven. Also, it should be clear that you willfully fled the accident scene. A conviction for hit and run vehicular manslaughter attracts severe legal penalties. Fortunately, a competent criminal defense attorney can help you present defenses to your case. The Law Offices of Fountain and Hattersley will provide skilled guidance and legal representation to ensure the best outcome for you in the case. Contact us today from any location in Pasadena at 626-793-4111 to help you create a good defense strategy.