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Vehicular Manslaughter Charges in California
- Penal Code §192(c) -

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Vehicular Manslaughter
– PC 192(c)

The law recognizes that not all killings are the result of an intentional homicide.  Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought. Vehicular manslaughter is one of three kinds of manslaughter prosecuted in the state of California. 

Vehicular manslaughter is criminalized pursuant to California Penal Code Section 192(c).  Vehicular manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person that was caused by the negligent operation of a vehicle.

Car accident

Charges for vehicular manslaughter arise from a collision resulting in death. 

1.  What is vehicular manslaughter? 

The crime of vehicular manslaughter can be separated into two categories: offenses involving ordinary negligence and offenses involving gross negligence. 


Vehicular manslaughter involving ordinary negligence is defined as the killing of another person caused by failing to use reasonable care while driving.  Vehicular manslaughter caused by ordinary negligence is often referred to as “Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter” because the offense can only be charged as a misdemeanor.

Conversely, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is a wobbler offense, which means the prosecutor can elect to file the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony.  Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. 

Gross negligence requires the driver to act in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury.  In other words, a person acts with gross negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from how an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.

2.  What are the penalties for vehicular manslaughter? 

Vehicular manslaughter is considered a serious offense in California. The penalties for vehicular manslaughter vary depending on whether the offense is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and the specific circumstances of the case. However, both misdemeanor and felony vehicular manslaughter convictions can result in imprisonment, fines, license suspension or revocation, and other consequences.


The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter is 1 year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.  On the other hand, the penalty for a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter can include up to 10 years in state prison under certain circumstances.

Inmate Handcuffed

A judge can also order that the defendant be imprisoned in jail as a condition of the defendant's probation. 

It's important to note that each case is unique, and the specific charges and penalties can vary depending on factors such as the defendant's criminal history, the severity of the negligence or recklessness involved, and other circumstances surrounding the incident.


An experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can often mitigate the facts of a case to avoid having the defendant sentenced to jail time.  For example, it is not uncommon for judges in Orange County to sentence defendants to informal probation and community service hours, rather than imprisonment.

If someone is facing charges of vehicular manslaughter in California, it's essential for them to seek legal representation from a qualified attorney experienced in handling such cases.

3.  Will a conviction of vehicular manslaughter result in a criminal record? 

Yes.  A conviction of vehicular manslaughter will result in the creation of a criminal record.  A criminal record, often referred to as a rap sheet or criminal background check, is a documented history of a person's involvement with the criminal justice system. It typically includes information about any arrests, charges, convictions, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies.

Criminal records are maintained by various law enforcement agencies, courts, and government entities at the local, state, and federal levels. The records are usually accessible to law enforcement personnel, employers, licensing agencies, and other authorized parties to perform background checks, employment screenings, and security clearances.


A criminal record can often affect potential employment opportunities. 

A criminal record can have significant implications for individuals, affecting their employment opportunities, housing options, and educational prospects.  It is always best to avoid having a criminal conviction on your record through programs like judicial diversion.  In the event a conviction of vehicular manslaughter is unavoidable, it may be possible to ameliorate the effects of the conviction by petitioning the court for an expungement.  

4.  Is vehicular manslaughter eligible for expungement? 

A conviction of vehicular manslaughter is eligible for expungement in California.  expungement refers to a legal process through which someone convicted of a crime may petition the court to have their conviction dismissed.

An expungement does not completely erase or remove the conviction from a person’s record, but it does change the status of the disposition of the case to "dismissed", “dismissed in the interest of justice”, or "set aside."  This ordinarily causes the conviction to no longer show up on most background checks available to employers or the public.

Eligibility for an expungement is dependent on the facts of the underlying case, the sentence imposed, and the successful completion of probation.  Visit the dedicated expungement page to learn more about the expungement process and see if you qualify for relief.

5.  What are some common defenses to vehicular manslaughter? 

There are many defenses available to someone charged with committing vehicular manslaughter.  Below are a few examples of common defenses.

Lack of Causation –

The defendant may argue that their actions did not directly cause the death of the victim. For example, if there were intervening factors, such as the victim's own reckless behavior or another driver's actions, the defendant may argue that their conduct was not the primary cause of the accident.

No Negligent Conduct –

Vehicular manslaughter charges typically require proof of criminal negligence or recklessness on the part of the defendant. The defense may argue that the defendant's actions did not rise to the level of criminal negligence or recklessness, such as if the conduct was merely careless rather than reckless.

Emergency Situation –

The defendant may argue that they were responding to an emergency situation or taking evasive action to avoid a collision, and their actions were reasonable under the circumstances.

It's important to note that the viability of these defenses depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case.  It is always recommended that someone charged with vehicular manslaughter contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.  Failure to obtain representation can sometimes result in waiver of rights, privileges, or defenses that may be critical to a positive outcome in a case.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer 

John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.


Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. Hire an attorney you can trust and who can provide the zealous advocacy you need.


Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation with local Orange County criminal defense lawyer John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan. Together you will review your case and develop a legal defense strategy tailored just for you!


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JPLaw, P.C.

Orange County Law Office

Old Town Orange Office

410 N Clark St.
Orange, CA 92868

Phone: (949) 991-7057

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