Los Angeles Manslaughter Lawyer

What is the difference between voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular manslaughter?

Voluntary Manslaughter. There are several different situations that may give rise to the charge of voluntary manslaughter. First, if a person was sufficiently provoked, immediately causing he or she to kill in a “sudden heat of passion,” then that person has committed voluntary manslaughter. However, ordinarily this person will be initially charged with murder and will need to provide justification for reducing the murder charge to the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter. A second way a person may be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter is if he or she intentionally killed due to having an honest, but unreasonable belief in the need to kill in self-defense or the defense of others. If proven, this is known as “imperfect self-defense” and will reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter. Further, a third set of circumstances may reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant ingested drugs or alcohol, placing him or her in a legally unconscious state, when the killing occurred—if the defendant unknowingly consumed the drugs or alcohol, this may serve as a complete defense to either murder or manslaughter charges. Depending on the circumstances of the case and criminal history of a defendant, a person found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in California may be sentenced to 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison.   More information concerning penalties can be found in California Penal Code Section 192a.

A skilled criminal defense lawyer will often try to negotiate a reduction of a murder charge to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter where there are mitigating facts to support a reduction.

Murder Charges Dismissed in Pomona Shooting Case


Involuntary Manslaughter. In California, most charges of involuntary manslaughter arise out of two different types of situations. First, when a person acts lawfully, but without due caution, and their lack of caution results in the unintentional death of another human being, that person may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter. To be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, such “lack of caution” must not be minor, but must greatly depart from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation. Such a drastic lack of care is sometimes referred to as “criminal negligence” or “gross negligence.” When a death directly results from someone acting “criminally negligent” then that person may be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Second, a person may also be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, sometimes called “misdemeanor-manslaughter,” if he or she commits a misdemeanor offense and a death accidentally results. To be found guilty of “misdemeanor manslaughter” the unlawful act must not amount to a felony. Further, the misdemeanor must have been dangerous to human life or safety under the circumstances of its commission. If found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, a court may sentence a punishment of 2, 3, or 4 years in state prison, depending on the facts of the case and the prior criminal history of a defendant.  More information concerning penalties can be found in California Penal Code Section 192b.

Where there are facts supporting mitigation, a skilled criminal defense attorney may seek a reduction from murder or voluntary manslaughter to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Vehicular Manslaughter. Under California law, if one unlawfully kills a human being “without malice aforethought,” while driving a vehicle, and either in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or in the commission of a lawful act that is dangerous to human life, then the driver may be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter. A conviction for vehicular manslaughter may be found with or without “gross negligence”—an extreme departure from ordinary care. If the defendant was under the influence of either drugs or alcohol while driving in a “grossly negligent” manner, and a death resulted, the defendant may be charged with both vehicular manslaughter and second-degree murder. The punishment for vehicular manslaughter greatly varies depending on the surrounding circumstances of the case.   If it is alleged that the vehicular manslaughter was committed with ordinary negligence, it is still a wobbler with a maximum sentence of four (4) years. 

Can I be sentenced to jail or state prison if convicted of vehicular manslaughter?

Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated Offenses


Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (California Vehicle Code Section 191.5b)

Defined as the killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Vehicle Code Section 23140.  If convicted, this offense is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for 16 months, 2 or 3 years.

This offense is still considered a wobbler with a potential for a misdemeanor conviction where the facts support mitigation.  A skilled criminal defense lawyer may seek such a reduction through successful negotiations with a District Attorney or City Attorney.


Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (California Vehicle Code Section 191.5a)

Defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Vehicle Code Section 23140.  Under the California Penal Code section 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is always charged as a felony offense and is punishable by 4, 6 or 10 years in state prison.


Watson Murder

People v. Watson is a 1981 California Supreme Court ruling that gave prosecutors the legal authority to charge second-degree murder in certain DUI accidents where someone was killed.

Typically, “Watson” murder charges are filed when:

  • A defendant has at least one prior conviction for DUI, and
  • The defendant was given a “Watson Admonition” in connection with that prior conviction
    1. The admonition is often included in standard plea waiver forms and read to the defendant by the Judge at the time of sentencing
    2. A Watson admonition advises a defendant that driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is extremely dangerous to human life and that a subsequent conviction may lead to the filing of murder charges where someone is killed.
      • A Watson advisement is not required, however. A prosecutor may elect to file murder charges if there is a fatality and the prosecutor can prove “implied malice”
  • Implied Malice may be implied where:
    1. The driver’s conduct shows a “wanton disregard” for life, and;
    2. The facts are such that the driver was especially aware of the risk his or her conduct created.
      • The “implied malice” theory also assumes a defendant took DUI classes as part of his sentence obligations in the prior case or cases, and that DUI classes uniformly teach all students that driving while impaired can easily lead to serious injury or death.