News reports recently indicated that Mitnesh Reddy, 23, of San Bruno, entered a no contest plea in a San Mateo County DUI Vehicular Manslaughter case. The pleas were entered in November 2012 and he was sentenced on January 4, 2013. His San Mateo County defense attorney argued for a probation sentence while the prosecutors wanted a considerable prison term. Ultimately the judge imposed a nine year prison sentence.
What possible consequences does a person who drives drunk and kills someone face in California? It really depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. While the best bet is to speak with an experienced Bay Area criminal defense attorney, here are some possible consequences.
Felony DUI With Injury
This is covered in vehicle code sections 23153(a) and 23153(b). These are the basic DUI with injury sections. Even a minor injury may qualify someone for punishment under this section. If the injury is more than a minor or moderate, the additional enhancement of "Great Bodily Injury" may be charged. This enhancement may also be charged in fatality cases. The "Great Bodily Injury" enhancement adds three additional years on top of the maximum punishment prescribed for Felony DUI.
Vehicular Manslaughter - Penal Code Sections 192(c)(1)-(3)
This charge can be brought when the death resulted from gross ordinary negligence. This charge is a wobbler, meaning it may be a misdemeanor or a felony. This charge is typically brought when there is little or no intoxication on the part of the accused but a death occurred due to negligence.
Vehicular Manslaughter - Penal Code Section 191.5
This is the code section charged most often in DUI related fatality cases. California's Penal Code section 191.5 describes two types of Vehicular Manslaughter:
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.
(b) 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.
The distinction between the (a) and (b) sections is "gross negligence."
The punishment for Felony Vehicular Manslaughter Without Gross Negligence - PC191.5(b) - is 16 months, 2 years, or 4 years imprisonment.
The punishment for Felony Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence - PC191.5(a) - is 4 years, 6 years, or 10 years imprisonment.
The punishment for Felony Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence - PC191.5(a) - where the accused has a prior conviction for DUI or Vehicular Manslaughter, is 15 years to life.
What is considered "gross negligence?" The California Criminal Jury Instructions (CalCrim Section 590) define gross negligence in this context as:
Gross negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness,
inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with gross
1. He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of
death or great bodily injury;
2. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that
way would create such a risk.
In other words, a person acts with gross negligence when the way
he or she acts is so different from the way 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
Some of the factors that the jurors are asked to consider in deciding whether the accused acted with gross negligence are:
- The level of intoxication of the accused
- The way the accused drove
- Any other relevant aspects of the accused' conduct
It should be noted that the mere combination of driving a car while under the influence and violating a traffic law is not enough by itself to establish gross negligence.
Second Degree Murder - "Watson" Murder
This is a felony carrying an indeterminate life sentence and is brought when the accused is said to have acted with implied malice, i.e. conscious disregard for human life. People v. Watson (1981) 30 C3d 290, 179 CR 43. Second Degree Murder is typically reserved for cases where the accused has prior DUI convictions. These prior DUI convictions can be used by the prosecutor to show that the accused knew the dangers of driving under the influence.
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