According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, there were 3,623 fatal car accidents on state roadways in 2016. Statistically, that means an average of nearly 10 individuals died every single day that year. As you may suspect, not every fatal car accident leads to a criminal prosecution.
Still, when someone causes a collision that results in another person’s death, prosecutors may seek to hold the driver responsible. The California Penal Code gives authorities plenty of options.
To meet the elements of vehicular manslaughter in the Golden State, you must cause someone to die while operating a motor vehicle. You also must either be negligently committing an unlawful action that is not a felony or negligently committing a lawful action. For example, if you are Snapchatting your friends while driving through town and run over a pedestrian, you may satisfy the elements of vehicular manslaughter in California.
As you likely know, some actions are more serious than others. If you are in the process of committing a felony when you cause someone’s death in a motor vehicle accident, prosecutors may charge you with murder pursuant to California’s felony-murder rule. For example, if you are driving the getaway car after robbing a convenience store and fatally wound a bicyclist with your vehicle, you may have satisfied all the elements of the felony-murder rule.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated
California law has special provisions for those who cause someone’s death while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Further, if you have a history of driving while intoxicated, you may have received the Watson advisement during previous proceedings. If so, prosecutors may charge you with murder for a subsequent intoxicated driving incident involving someone’s death.