A 23-year-old man driving a Lexus SUV was allegedly under the influence of alcohol when he accidentally crashed the vehicle against a median on North Capital Avenue in San Jose. Reports claim that there were up to 6 people in the car that night, 2 of whom were determined dead at the scene, while 3 more were rushed to a local hospital in stable condition. After the accident, law enforcement agents searched the vehicle and found some type of alcohol, thus assuming that the driver had been under the influence at the time of the collision. He was arrested for suspicion of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.
There is a very particular California law that applies when the driver of a vehicle is suspected of being intoxicated when they accidentally cause the death of others in a car crash. California Penal Code 191.5 (“Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated”) addresses the possibility that an individual who has been drinking, and then causes a fatal accident is guilty of a special kind of negligence. In cases of these types, prosecutors must determine whether they will claim, in court, that a defendant acted with ordinary negligence or with gross negligence.
If ‘gross negligence’ can be proven, then prosecutors must still decide whether they will treat the crime as a misdemeanor or as a felony (this is what is known as a ‘wobbler’). If a person is convicted of ordinary vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, they may expect to spend up to 1 year in county jail. However, a conviction on the basis of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated may lead to up to 4 years in state prison. In either case, the convicted party will be forced to surrender their driver’s license for a time and may also anticipate official DUI courses mandated by the state.