Last week, we discussed the District Attorney's options for prosecuting Tatsuhiko Sakamoto, 37, who was allegedly drunk when he plowed his Toyota Rav4 through construction barriers and into Connor Penhall, the late son of Hall of Fame motorcycle racer Bruce Penhall. Today, word has come down that Sakamoto will indeed be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter.
As stated before, there are two kinds of vehicular manslaughter: manslaughter resulting from negligence and manslaugther resulting from gross negligence. The latter is harder to convict on, as it requires proof of some inherently dangerous activity, in addition to driving under the influence, such as street racing. There has to be an absolute wanton indifference for human life.
Apparently, that is exactly what the District Attorney thinks they have. The Orange County Register reports that he has been charged with driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content, causing injury and with an enhancement for causing great bodily injury, in addition to gross vehicular manslaughter.
Sometimes, prosecutors will "over-charge" bringing the highest possible offenses, trying to convince the defense that a plea deal should be made for a higher sentence than if the prosecutor charged the defendant with the crime(s) they thought they could definitely convict on.
At this point, the facts reported by the press are that Sakamoto was driving, possibly under the influence, and crashed. There are no allegations yet of dangerously high speeds or street racing, as that probably would not be possible in a Rav4. Remember that the gross negligence must be in addition to the drunk driving, so having a 0.08 or higher BAC may not be sufficient to meet the "gross" standard.
Unless more facts indicate a complete lack of regard for others' lives, this might be a hardball tactic to negotiate a plea deal for more jail time for Tatsuhiko Sakamoto's role in Connor Penhall's death.
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