Caitlyn Jenner's Vehicular Manslaughter Case: What Could Have Been

This week marked the end of Caitlyn Jenner's legal troubles stemming from her car crash last February that killed 69-year-old Kim Howe. Howe's grown stepchildren agreed this week to drop their wrongful death lawsuit against the former Olympian. The dismissal comes after Jenner's insurance company agreed to pay only a modest amount to Howe's family. Jenner herself did not pay anything out of pocket to the Howe family.

Jenner was not only spared from having to go through a civil trial; she also avoided facing criminal charges for the crash. In September, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office decided not to charge Jenner with misdemeanor manslaughter. At the time, the district attorney's office stated that based on the facts, they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jenner's conduct was unreasonable.

However, if it wasn't Caitlyn Jenner, of Kardashian fame, that was behind the wheel, the outcome could have been very different.

In order to prove that someone committed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the driver caused the wreck due to ordinary negligence. Ordinary negligence is defined, under California jury instructions, as "the failure to use reasonable care to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to oneself or someone else. A person is negligent if he or she does something that a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation or fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation." Under this definition, ordinary negligence is a very subjective standard. As a result, in deciding whether to charge someone with misdemeanor manslaughter, prosecutors have more discretion than they do with other criminal offenses.

This begs the question, if the offender wasn't Caitlyn Jenner, would prosecutors have chosen to pursue criminal charges? I think so; and this is how the criminal case would have been played out...

It was clear from bystander footage taken after the accident that Jenner moved her car to the side of the road and was picking up pieces of her car from the street - which would have become an issue at trial. The defense would argue that the police botched the investigation so the cause of the accident can't be proven. The prosecution would argue that Jenner tampered with the evidence.

Due to the problem with the evidence in the case, and the subjective nature of determining whether someone was "reasonably careful," it is likely prosecutors would have offered Jenner a plea deal of one year in jail and a fine. Jenner's defense attorney could have appeared in court for her and plead no contest so that she didn't have to appear herself, thus avoiding the media circus.

Then, Jenner likely wouldn't have spent more than a weekend in jail because of overcrowding problems and the fact that the sheriff wouldn't want such a high-profile celebrity in jail too long - too many security risks and liability issues. So it would have resulted in a quick jail stint for Jenner, just like so many celebrities before her (Nicole Ritchie and Lindsay Lohan, to name a few).

In addition, prosecutors would have made a restitution order for money for the victim, but deferred the issue of restitution to the civil court judge handling the wrongful death case.

In the end, had Jenner not been a celebrity, she likely would have been charged with, and convicted of, or plead guilty to, misdemeanor manslaughter. Such a conviction, or plea, would have served to offer some measure of justice and closure to the Howe family. This family had to endure not only the death of their loved one last year, but also had to watch the woman who killed their loved one being hailed as a hero for her choice to go public with her gender transition. Their inability to escape Jenner, who was plastered on magazine covers and on television for months, must have served as a constant reminder of Howe's death.

However, in a world where the Kardashians loom large, Howe's family has had to accept that Jenner will not answer for her actions, civilly or criminally.