U.S. Marine Gets Probation in Orange County Vehicular Manslaughter
A local U.S. Marine who had been facing several years in prison following a fatal crash that killed his fellow serviceman was sentenced to a suspended one-year in jail and five years of probation, following his conviction on a charge of gross vehicular manslaughter.
Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer Houman Fakhimi knows that despite the fact that the soldier was charged with a serious felony, a number of factors may have played in his favor, including his spotless record, his service to his country and the fact that prosecutors couldn't definitively link the crash to intoxication or alcohol.
This is a tragic case involving friends who would die for their country and for one another on the battle field - but never expected to die this way here at home.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the crash occurred back in the summer of 2009. A 25-year-old U.S. Marine was behind the wheel. A fellow soldier was seated next to him in the passenger seat, and three other soldiers seated in the back.
The friends were all stationed at Camp Pendleton, and were reportedly returning from a night of drinking at a local tavern.
Despite the fact that the soldiers had just left a bar, prosecutors were not able to prove that the crash was caused by alcohol, as opposed to reckless driving. In fact, officers responding later to the scene would measure his blood alcohol level, or BAC, at 0.09 percent, just slightly above the legal limit of 0.08 percent (and well within the margin of error for breathalyzer tests).
The driver was reportedly traveling 55 miles per hour in a 35 mph zone when he crossed into oncoming lanes of traffic and struck a tree. His 22-year-old passenger died at the scene. Two others in the back were transported to the hospital for relatively minor injuries. The driver suffered head trauma.
The driver recovered from his injuries and was subsequently charged with DUI and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. As defined in California Penal Code 191.5(a), it involves proof of alcohol intoxication, as well as gross negligence, or total disregard for human life.
However, a jury could not find proof that intoxication was a factor in the crash. As such, they found him guilty of vehicular manslaughter, as defined under California Penal Code 192(c).
In this case, the soldier could have faced up to 10 years in prison (or even 15 years-to-life if he'd had a prior conviction on the same charge or two previous DUIs, though neither was the case here).
Despite his convictions, the judge gave him credit for his 1 year already served and suspended his remaining two-year sentence, citing his six years of service with the U.S. marines, lack of a criminal record and recommendations from prison staff.
He has been discharged from the Marines, and will likely live with the emotional consequences the rest of his life. The hope is that by gaining his freedom with the help of his Orange County defense attorneys, he may be able to effect tangible and positive change by turning this despair and loss into a learning experience for others.
Contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (714) 705-6701 as soon as possible if you are charged with a crime in Orange County.