The definition of vehicular manslaughter in California (PC 192(c)) is causing the death of another person while driving a vehicle, by negligently committing either an unlawful act that is not a California felony, or a lawful act that may cause death
Penal Code 192: Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:
(a) Voluntary—upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.
(1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.
(2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.
(3) Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550, where the vehicular collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person. This paragraph does not prevent prosecution of a defendant for the crime of murder.
(d) This section shall not be construed as making any homicide in the driving of a vehicle punishable that is not a proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, or of the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner.
(e) “Gross negligence,” as used in this section, does not prohibit or preclude a charge of murder under Section 188 upon facts exhibiting wantonness and a conscious disregard for life to support a finding of implied malice, or upon facts showing malice, consistent with the holding of the California Supreme Court in People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290.
The penalties under California's vehicular manslaughter law depend on whether you acted with
gross negligence, or
If you acted with gross negligence, then Penal Code 192(c) vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler in California law. This means it may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The maximum misdemeanor sentence for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence is one (1) year in county jail—and the maximum felony sentence is six (6) years in state prison. But if you acted with only ordinary negligence, then Penal Code 192(c) is a California misdemeanor. The maximum PC 192(c) sentence will be one (1) year in county jail.
If you are involved in a car accident in which someone is killed, you are no doubt grieving already. To face vehicular manslaughter charges on top of that can truly be a nightmare. You may feel guilty—but you have the right and the means to defend yourself to avoid criminal penalties. Some helpful legal defenses to 192(c) PC charges include:
You did not act with negligence or gross negligence;
Your negligence didn't cause the victim's death; and
You were facing a sudden emergency and acted reasonably under the circumstances.