Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated in California

Sometimes drunk driving leads to someone’s death. In that case, you may face multiple charges on top of any DUI charges that apply. In a recent California appellate decision, the defendant appealed a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and challenged the lower court’s denial of probation, among other things.

The prosecutor filed a three county felony complaint charging the defendant with a gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under section 191.5(a), DUI causing injury under Vehicle Code section 23153(a), and driving with a measurable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) triggering injury under Vehicle Code section 23153(b). With regard to these two other counts, it was alleged the defendant personally caused great bodily injury, that his BAC was at least 0.15% or greater, and proximately caused bodily injury or death to more than one person.

The defendant pled guilty and admitted the truth of the enhancement allegations. The factual grounds for the plea was that he had knowingly and unlawfully killed someone without malice aforethought while drunk driving and the killing was the result of an illegal act that was not a felony, which resulted in death. He also admitted his blood alcohol was .15 or greater.

The court sentenced the defendant to 10 years in state prison. The defendant appealed on various grounds, including ineffective assistance of counsel. One of the defendant’s grounds for appeal was challenging the standards used for the court’s choice of how long his prison sentence would be. The statute mentioned three possible terms of imprisonment. The court was given the discretion to select the appropriate term and could put in place an upper term if the court decided the circumstances of aggravation outweighed circumstances in mitigation. The lower court is allowed to consider the record in the case, the probation officer’s report and statements in mitigation or aggravated the prosecution submits.

The lower court’s discretion is broad with regard to what the proper sentence is. California Rules of Court set forth aggravating and mitigating circumstances under rules 4.421 and 4.423, respectively. The list of aggravating factors is not an exclusive one. The defendant argued that the court had inappropriately relied on certain aggravating factors such as that his convictions were of increasingly seriousness, when he had only suffered a single previous misdemeanor for a DUI. He also argued it was inappropriate for the court to rely on the fact he had engaged in violent conduct simply because the victim was a motorcyclist, and therefore particularly vulnerable.

The lower court had expressed its concern that the defendant had a prior DUI and knew the risks of drinking and driving and yet drank substantial quantities of alcohol and ultimately killed somebody.

The appellate court disagreed with the defendant’s claim that none of the aggravating factors relied upon by the court was appropriate. The gist of the court’s comments were that he had previously suffered a DUI conviction, and yet became involved in much more egregious conduct.

The appellate court reasoned that the lower court had appropriately relied on several relevant factors in aggravation, and that any one of them could have supported the lower court’s imposition of an upper term. It therefore rejected the defendant’s argument that his attorney’s failure to object to the aggravating circumstances used to impose a sentence should be considered ineffective assistance of counsel.

If you were charged with vehicular manslaughter while driving intoxicated, you should retain a seasoned DUI attorney to defend you aggressively in court and strategize to secure a favorable outcome. The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman may be able to help. Call us for a free consultation at (619) 260-1122.