Getting a DUI when you have no prior record and are otherwise a law abiding citizen can be very serious and daunting. However, when the DUI also involves a car accident where another person dies, the case then becomes life changing where a criminal defendant can face not only charges of manslaughter but even murder. The recent events in the Ethan Couch “affluenza” defense concerning the tragic deaths of multiple victims at the hand of the intoxicated teenager show that even the best defense can result in serious legal consequences (see http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/29/us/affluenza-teen-ethan-couch-detained-in-mexico/). When facing DUI charges in California, especially where another person is injured or killed, it is always best to immediately contact an experienced DUI attorney who can evaluate all possible legal defenses, including a defense showing that a defendant was not legally “under the influence” at the time of the accident.
1. Driving Under the Influence in California
Pursuant to California Vehicle Code section 23152 it is unlawful for a person to operate a vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or drug. Perhaps the biggest issue of contention when defending a charge of DUI in violation of California Vehicle Code section 23152(a) is whether there is evidence presented beyond a reasonable doubt showing a person was “under the influence” while driving. Under California Law, a person is considered driving “under the influence” where as result of consuming an alcoholic beverage or taking a drug, a defendant’s physical or mental abilities are impaired to the point where he or she is no longer able to operate a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.
An experienced criminal attorney can often times challenge a DUI charge of driving “under the influence” using experts such as a toxicologist and pointing to evidence where a sober person might exhibit the same driving pattern. As such, a prosecutor will normally always charge a person with violating California Vehicle Code section 23152(b) where a breath or blood test was taken and the results show that a driver was driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher. To challenge a California Vehicle Code section 23152(b) charge one should always consult with a California DUI lawyer who can evaluate the evidence with the assistance of a toxicologist to determine the validity of the prosecution’s case which may include challenging the accuracy and the breathalyzer used or the steps taken by the officer in administering a blood test which often times are in violation of California Code of Regulations section 17 which governs the proper procedure for administering DUI blood and breath tests.
2. Driving Under the Influence — Vehicular Manslaughter in California
If you are arrested for driving under the influence that leads to the death of another person, you will be charged with violating California Vehicular manslaughters statute. Specifically, California Penal Code section 191.5 makes it unlawful to:
- Drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol;
- While driving committing a California infraction or misdemeanor or otherwise lawful act;
- Drives with ordinary negligence or gross negligence; and
- Causes the death of another person.
The differences between a conviction of gross negligence as opposed to ordinary negligence can involve a sentence in a California State Prison for up to 10 years.
A person may face murder charges under California Penal Code section 187 if they kill another person while driving under the influence if:
- They have a prior DUI (repeat offender);
- They were educated prior to the killing of another about the dangers of driving under the influence or they were given a “Watson” advisement at the time of sentencing in their prior DUI case.
A Watson advisement is most always given by the judge at the time of a DUI sentencing in California. The advisement informs the defendant that driving under the influence is extremely dangerous to the lives of others and that if you kill someone while driving under the influence you may face murder charges in California.
Clearly, the issues involving a garden variety DUI defense can be complicated and involve legal and factual scientific questions requiring an experienced DUI attorney. However, if you are charged with vehicular manslaughter or murder as a result of driving under the influence it is always the best practice in California to seek immediate legal consultation from a seasoned criminal DUI defense lawyer.