Culpability in Vehicle Accidents
Learn Whether You Can Be Held Criminally Responsible if You Get in an Accident and a Death Occurs in California. This question comes up all the time. I have a lot of clients who are involved in severe accidents.
They're being investigated by CHP or whatever law enforcement agency happens to assume responsibility for the case. They're concerned about whether or not they will be prosecuted for the death.
Several different theories could cause somebody to be criminally prosecuted. For example, probably the most obvious one is:
- if you were drinking alcohol or using drugs;
- whether they be illegal drugs or prescription drugs, and
- you become involved in an accident and kill somebody.
You have potential criminal liability depending on what happened with the accident and whose fault the accident is, and a host of other factors. So, you're going to want to consider whether or not you have done something criminal related to the accident.
That's one theory of liability in a criminal case or what we call guilt. This is where you were using some substance, so the law will presume that you were responsible for the accident, and therefore, the death, and consequently, you would be held criminally accountable.
If you can rebut that presumption through your attorney, in other words, your attorney can show even though the person had alcohol in their system; the accident is still someone else's fault.
For example, I had a case where somebody was making a left close to a sign that said no left-hand turn near the mall.
My client comes along; they make the left in front of my client; my client has had alcohol and is booked for a DUI.
The other party claims that they're injured and now wants my client to be responsible for their injuries and accountable for a serious DUI. When you have a DUI with injuries, it is a lot more challenging to resolve.
Fortunately, I was able to show because I took a picture of the intersection where the accident happened, and I told the prosecutor, which rebuts the presumption.
There's a sign right there. You can't make an illegal left in front of my client, which is precisely what the person did. My client is not responsible for that injury.
You want to charge him for a DUI, fine, but they're not responsible for the injury.
Reckless Driving In Accidents Causing Death
Other ways that I've seen this issue come up, let's say somebody's driving very recklessly on the road with no alcohol or drugs in their system, and they get in a horrible accident. That can also trigger criminal responsibility. Where they start to split hairs with that is, whether or not whatever you were doing:
- driving reckless,
- whether that is just simple negligence.
If it's just simple negligence, typically, you're not going to have criminal responsibility for that. However, they could try to get you for involuntary manslaughter under California Penal Code 192b PC if you violated some traffic edict and death occurred.
But, again, if there's just negligence and somebody dies, they're not going to charge you with a crime.
If, on the other hand, you're driving recklessly with wanton disregard for human safety, let's say you're going 130 mph on the city streets, and you blow through light, that's going to get you some criminal responsibility.
Second-Degree Murder Charges
That might even take it up to second-degree murder if they can show your activity was wanton and depraved-hearted enough to get that second-degree murder charge.
Typically, what you'll see, though, is some manslaughter charge, as a vehicular manslaughter charge if you were grossly negligent. It's interesting how they split hair when these deaths occur on the highway. Either it's:
- simple negligence,
- gross negligence or
- wanton disregard for human life.
All three of those things trigger different responsibilities, but the question becomes how do you figure out which one of the three it is.
So, now you see why you've got to have an attorney who's done this a long time. I have almost 30 years of experience defending these cases. I know the law backward and forward. I've dealt with the prosecutors.
I have a good accident reconstruction expert on the payroll. So, we know how to handle them. We know how to fight them.
Sometimes these cases are poorly investigated by the police. They've got people doing the accident reconstruction that thinks that they're good accident reconstruction experts. Still, they don't have the credentials, and my accident reconstruction expert can tear them up when litigation on this issue.
Criminal Defense For Accidents Causing Death in Los Angeles
So, now you start to feel that it is complicated to decide when a death occurs on the road, whether or not there's criminal responsibility.
But bet your bottom dollar, if you're being investigated, even if they haven't filed charges against you, for some accident on the road, you will need an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Whether it was hit and run, alcohol-related, drug-related, or just claiming that you somehow did something wrong. Maybe they claim you were negligent, grossly negligent, or acted with wanton disregard for human safety.
Whatever they're trying to ram you into, you must have a champion on your side, someone like me who has the experience, the know-how, and the ability to take on the authorities and defend you.
Pick up the phone. Ask for a meeting with Ron Hedding. I stand at the ready to help you.
Hedding Law Firm is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436.
We serve people in all Southern California courts, including LA County, Orange County, Ventura County, Long Beach, Pacoima, West Covina, Hollywood, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0963.