Schwartz & Powell

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter: " Infracticide"

by Steven D. Powell Attorney at Law

car accidentAlmost if not all licensed drivers in the State of California and Ventura have committed a variety of minor Vehicle Code infractions.  These violations range from illegal lane changes, speeding a few miles over the speed limit, rolling through a stop sign in the fabled “California stop,” to violations such as failure to yield, passing unlawfully and a big fine violation of blocking an intersection while making a left hand turn.  Ordinarily, if one is guilty of these offenses, one pays a fine and suffers a few points added to his or her license for DMV purposes.  There is no probation, jail or criminal fine above that for the ticket itself.  These offenses are infractions of interest to DMV, your insurer, your employer if you drive as part of your job.

These are “crimes” but are infractions.  You should consult a Ventura criminal lawyer savvy at vehicular crime defense when accused of such infractions because the effect on your driving privilege could be significant.  The other collateral consequences of being found guilty of these offenses are potentially significant, so you should seek the advice of a Ventura vehicular crimes attorney at the earliest time after your ticket so he or she can begin preparation of your defense.  Get on it right away; evidence disappears quickly; and you need your attorney’s services to lead an investigation and defense at the earliest opportunity.  Don’t despair; it will work out one way or another. Your world will continue although to be sure you will incur cost and inconvenience defending yourself.

But when commission of a Vehicle Code infraction results in a fatal car accident, a driver’s world is turned upside down.  The guilt, shame and remorse can be overwhelming. I remember one misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter case in which an elderly man illegally changed lanes and his wife of forty some years who was his passenger died in the ensuing collision.  He was actually arrested and prosecuted for vehicular misdemeanor manslaughter because death caused by commission of an infraction is considered “homicide” or the unlawful killing of another human being.  Did the State honestly believe it could or should punish this poor guy any more than he had already punished himself?  He needed psychological grief counseling, not criminal prosecution.   

But where a minor Vehicle Code violation transforms an accidental traffic fatality into a criminal homicide prosecution, the State can criminalize an otherwise law-abiding citizen's simple driving mistake into a high grade misdemeanor. 

The State has bad judgment in charging an unfortunate driver with homicide off an illegal lane change or any minor traffic violation.  After all, the event was an accident. The result was horrible, the death of a spouse of forty years in the referenced case above, but the State shouldn’t look to the result only  in charging homicide.  It should look to the underlying acts of the driver and his or her moral culpability or responsibility for the act resulting in death. 

The State routinely charges infracticide or vehicular manslaughter throughout California.  Prosecutors don’t like to use the discretion vested in them by statute and constitution to make the sole and exclusive decision as to whether to charge the crime or not.  They don’t have to file the charge.  But if they file the fatal accident as a crime the police and victim’s family are gratified, sometimes.  And no prosecutor wants to be labeled “soft on crime.” Prosecutors file and charge vehicular manslaughter cases not because they should file charges but because they can file charges. I've seen this first as a Ventura County Deputy DA  and now as a Ventura criminal defense lawyer defending these cases for over thirty years. 

If you or a loved one find yourself involved in a fatal accident, your life has been turned upside down and you should immediately contact the skilled Ventura criminal defense lawyers at Schwartz & Powell, the preeminent criminal defense law firm in Ventura County.  There are defenses to the charge of vehicular manslaughter but they need be investigated, explored and perhaps presented to the DA at the earliest opportunity to forestall, if possible, the filing of a complaint in criminal court. These efforts will certainly be critical to any subsequent trial.  Schwartz & Powell has successfully defended many vehicular manslaughter charges over the years.  We have seen it all and we know what to do.   Call Schwartz & Powell to discuss your fatal collision and make sure you notify your insurer.  Schwartz & Powell has been there, done that and knows how to navigate your case and help you turn your life right side up again.  We understand civil law issues arising from fatal collisions and will interface with your insurance lawyers.   We know what to do to ease your burden because Experience Matters.


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