The unlawful taking of another person's life while doing a criminal act is involuntary manslaughter. The intent to kill distinguishes voluntary manslaughter from murder. Murder charges apply if your actions were motivated by malice aforethought or an intent to kill. If this intent is not present, you could face charges of involuntary manslaughter. In California, involuntary manslaughter is a serious felony that can result in a jail sentence of up to four years and a sizable fine. That is true of all crimes involving death.
Additional repercussions are possible after a conviction, like a damaging criminal record, the loss of one's right to possess firearms, and severe immigration repercussions. Therefore, you must put up a strong defense if you are accused of involuntary manslaughter. A solid defense, like the ones we provide at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, can enable you to obtain the outcome you want for your case.
The Legal Definition of Involuntary Manslaughter
It is a big deal to take another person's life. Human life is sacred and ought to be safeguarded at all costs. We have strict prohibitions banning any behavior that can lead to death. One law that prevents loss of life is the one prohibiting involuntary manslaughter. It punishes somebody who, without intending to kill, negligently causes the death of another person. While some deaths result from accidents, others are deliberate or the result of carelessness. Depending on the case's specifics, prosecutors file charges against people who commit these offenses.
An individual's death accidentally brought on by another is considered involuntary manslaughter. But you must have acted with criminal negligence to face charges under this statute. The crime is also known as negligent homicide or accidental homicide. This law's key characteristic is that the offender did not intend to murder the victim. The prosecution will file murder charges rather than unintentional manslaughter if the defendant had the necessary intent or behaved with malice aforethought. Similar actions committed using a vehicle are also considered serious felonies. Vehicular manslaughter charges will be brought against you if you negligently use a car to kill someone else.
According to Penal Code 192b, involuntary manslaughter is a felony in California. The district attorney must prove all of the facts of this crime beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty. According to the legal definition of the offense, the following are the factors that make up your case's facts:
- You either committed a crime that California considers a misdemeanor violation, an offense that is not necessarily a dangerous felony, or you illegally carried out a legal act.
- You acted in a criminally negligent manner.
- Your deeds caused another individual to pass away.
Example: Tim grabbed a motorcycle from outside a downtown grocery store. While riding it home in a rush, he struck a pedestrian with the motorcycle, severely hurting her. The pedestrian later passed away from her wounds. Tim killed someone without intending to. But his actions were criminally negligent and occurred after he had committed another crime. All these satisfy the elements of this offense, making Tim guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
We start by looking at each element in greater detail to understand the legal definition of this crime. For more information and legal help, consider hiring a skilled criminal attorney from the start of your legal process.
An Infraction, Misdemeanor, or Legal Act in a Legal Manner
In California, the first act of involuntary manslaughter is an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a legal act carried out unlawfully. Therefore, involuntary manslaughter happens when you act improperly. Accidental behaviors do not meet the requirements for this violation.
The following actions constitute involuntary manslaughter:
- An infraction or any minor misdemeanor that carries just a fine, like a traffic infraction or disturbing the peace (under PC 415).
- A minor offense or misdemeanor.
- A crime that is not necessarily harmful.
- Illegally performing a legal act.
You would face charges for murder rather than involuntary manslaughter if someone died due to your inherently harmful acts. A more severe crime of murder carries a 25-year maximum prison term.
Example: Sarah is a herbalist who focuses on conventional treatments because she thinks they are far superior to modern medicine. However, she does not hold a medical license. But patients come to her to care for a variety of diseases. She once treated a cancer patient without being aware that the patient was allergic to some herbs she had recommended. The patient passed away.
In this instance, Sarah does not intend for her patient to pass away. Therefore, she is not a murderer. However, she could have committed involuntary manslaughter. Practicing traditional healing is a felony but not an intrinsically dangerous felony. That satisfies the elements of this charge.
Acts of Criminal Negligence
Keep in mind that negligent criminal activities are a component of involuntary manslaughter. The district attorney must show that your conduct was criminally negligent, regardless of whether you committed an infraction, a misdemeanor, or a legitimate act while acting illegally. Ordinary negligence, inattention, carelessness, or poor judgment are less severe than criminal negligence. Criminal neglect takes place when:
- You engage in irresponsible behavior that puts others at risk of severe physical harm or death.
- A sane person would understand that your actions create a similar risk.
Example: Lydia loses her second job and cannot pay for daycare for her small children while at work. She occasionally locks them inside the house, and other times she asks her neighbor for assistance. On one occasion, Lydia's youngest child perished in a house fire that started while the kids were home alone.
In this instance, Lydia did not act with criminal negligence by locking her kids inside the house when she left for work. Even though she made a wrong decision, she had no way of knowing that a fire would start in her home when she was away.
The Death of a Person
Involuntary manslaughter does not occur if no one loses their life. But the district attorney must demonstrate that your actions directly, naturally, or probably caused the other person's death. The DA must prove that the person would still be alive if you had not acted the way you did. And that a sensible person, under the same circumstances as you, could have recognized that someone could lose their life if they acted the way you did.
For example, Martha and her husband start arguing over a small matter in their bedroom. Martha decides to go downstairs to cool down, but she stops at the edge of the stairs when her husband, who is right behind her, throws a demeaning word at her. Angrily, Martha throws the cup of coffee in her hands at her husband, who catches it and throws it back to her. Martha tries to dodge the cup when she slips her foot and rolls down the stairs. She sustains severe head and back injuries and later dies while receiving treatment.
Martha's husband did not intend to kill his wife, but his actions resulted in her death. In that case, he would be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary Manslaughter Based on Legal Duty
You could face charges under PC 192b for not performing your legal duty. But, your charges will have a different legal meaning from what has already been discussed. Your charges will have the following elements, which the district attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubt for the court to find you guilty:
- You owed the alleged victim a legal duty.
- You failed to perform that duty.
- You were criminally negligent in not performing your legal responsibility to the alleged victim.
- Failing to fulfill your legal duty caused the alleged victim to lose their life.
Whether or not you owe another person a legal duty is a matter that only the judge, and not the jury, can decide. It mainly depends on the kind of job you do or the relationship you have with the victim. For example, a parent owes their child a legal duty of care. If the parent fails to perform their legal responsibility and a child loses their life, the responsible parent could face involuntary manslaughter charges.
Here are typical relationships that could give rise to the matter of legal duty:
- The relationship between a child and their parent or legal guardian.
- A relationship between a caretaker or carer and the one they are caring for.
- Two people in a relationship, whereby one of them has assumed responsibility for the other.
Example: Jude and Mark have been roommates and friends for a year. But recently, Mark has secretly been doing drugs behind Jude's back. Jude is only suspicious. One evening, Jude comes home from work only to find Mark lying unconscious on the couch. Jude tries to wake Mark up, but with no success. He knows Mark is high on drugs and could die, but he chooses not to help. Sadly, Mark dies from an overdose. Jude is arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The truth is Jude owed Mark a duty of care. Since they have been roommates and friends for several months, Jude should have sought medical help for Mark when he found Mark lying unconscious on the sofa. Instead, he left Mark to die without even trying to help him.
Penalties for a Conviction for Involuntary Manslaughter in California
In California, voluntary manslaughter is a felony violation that carries the following punishments:
- Formal or felony probation.
- 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.
- Court fines and penalty assessments of up to $10,000.
You could serve some of your jail term on felony probation when the judge sentences you to it. However, you will be under a probation officer's watchful eye. Throughout the probationary period, the officer will keep an eye on you to ensure you adhere to the judge's probationary requirements. The officer will also provide periodic updates on your performance to the court. Remember that you must adhere to all probationary requirements set forth at the time of your release. For involuntary manslaughter, you could be sentenced to several conditions, including:
- To continue to be subject to the court's jurisdiction during the probationary period.
- While on probation, you must not commit any crimes.
- To perform community work.
- If the judge determines that alcohol and/or drugs played a role in your behavior, you must undergo drug and/or alcohol treatment.
Criminal charges can be brought if a probationer does not follow all of its requirements. To find out which terms you broke and why the judge will first schedule a hearing for a probation breach. After hearing the case, the judge can decide the following:
- Your probation will continue under the same guidelines, but you will receive a strong warning about future infractions.
- Continue your probation under new, stricter rules and regulations.
- To revoke your probation and place you back in custody to finish your sentence.
A Civil Suit for Damages
The victim's family has the right to sue you in court for damages. The loss of a loved one is difficult for the family. Some people struggle to provide for their daily requirements after losing their family's only source of income. If you are guilty under California PC 192b, a civil action can require you to pay the victim's family for all losses and damages. The money the family can collect could be useful in arranging for their loved one's funeral and burial. If the dead had dependents, those people would also need financial assistance until they can find another method to meet their needs.
Involuntary Manslaughter as a Strike
According to the California Three-Strikes Law, involuntary manslaughter can occasionally qualify as a strike. If a dangerous weapon, like a gun, was used in the offense, the crime automatically becomes a strikeable offense. Your conviction counts as a strike, affecting the possible punishments for any subsequent strikes you can be given. This offense will count as a second strike if you already have one on your record, carrying double the legal consequences for the crime. You will receive 25 years to life in prison if you already have two strikes, and this one counts as a third.
How To Defend Yourself Against Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
When someone passes away under mysterious circumstances, the police, the prosecutor, and the jury must be involved in the case. They must hold someone accountable for that death. Sometimes they base their findings about the murderer on scant evidence. Innocent people are made to pay for crimes they did not commit in this way. Criminal trials must be fairly handled to give the accused person a chance to refute the claims made against them. Fortunately, several defensive tactics are available that you can employ with the assistance of a knowledgeable lawyer. If you are lucky, the court could drop or downgrade the involuntary manslaughter accusations against you. You can use the following techniques in your situation:
You Were Defending Yourself or Someone Else
If a person believes that their life or the life of another is in danger, they can legally defend themselves. The law permits you to use reasonable force to stop someone from hurting you or someone else. However, these facts must be true for this defense strategy to be acceptable in court:
- You thought that you or someone else was about to be raped, severely injured, or robbed, OR
- You or they were in immediate danger of death or severe physical harm.
- Because of the immediate threat you faced, you felt employing force was necessary to defend yourself or the other person.
- You only used as much force as was necessary to protect the other person and yourself from that threat.
Even if someone lost their life due to your actions, you would not be guilty under this statute if all three conditions are met. However, you can be guilty of involuntary manslaughter if the judge finds that you used more force than was necessary to protect yourself from the danger that was about to strike.
Example: One evening, when Sally and her mother return home, they are approached by two young guys. The men want to rob Sally and her mother of the valuables they are carrying, but not without a battle. Sally's mother uses a knife the robber held against the two women to stab and murder one of the thieves during the incident. Once the other thief notices that his buddy is seriously hurt, he departs the scene. As soon as they are released, Sally phones the police.
Sally's mother was merely defending herself. She had no desire to hurt the man. However, she was forced to use force to protect herself and her daughter since they were in danger of being killed or suffering severe physical harm.
The Death was Accidental
If you accidentally kill someone, it could be a case of involuntary manslaughter. Accidents occur in every instance of involuntary manslaughter. They entail circumstances in which the accused did not intend to take the victim's life. However, if you did not commit any crimes or engage in any wrongful acts, your lawyer can make a case that your activities were just unintentional. That could compel the court to drop or downgrade your charges. But for the jury to conclude that your actions were truly accidental, you must show the following elements:
- You have no malicious motive to hurt the victim.
- When the victim died, your acts were not criminally negligent.
- When the incident occurred, you were performing a legal task.
The Prosecutor's Evidence is Insufficient to Support a Conviction
For the judge to find you guilty under this law, the district attorney must demonstrate all the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Only if they have substantial evidence against you, could that happen. But it does not always work out like that. Even without sufficient proof, the police will expeditiously move a murder case through the legal system. Sometimes they do not even bother to try to grasp how the murder occurred; they simply want to solve it.
That is why if you face accusations of involuntary manslaughter, you need to consult with a skilled criminal lawyer. To better grasp the circumstances of the case, your attorney will carry out their investigation. Competent lawyers devote time and money to the issues they handle. To fully grasp the circumstances surrounding the case, they speak with eyewitnesses, review the evidence, and even seek advice from professionals and forensic scientists.
You Face False Accusations
False accusations for significant offenses like voluntary manslaughter are not uncommon. For motives like jealousy, a desire for vengeance, or to gain an edge over others, some people accuse others unjustly. A friend or family member of the purported victim could be trying to place the blame on you when, in reality, they were directly responsible for the death. Or perhaps someone intends to harm or obtain revenge on an innocent person.
Your skilled criminal lawyer can assist you if you are facing criminal charges for a crime you did not commit. An attorney familiar with and proficient in handling homicide cases will be aware of the type of proof required to have the court dismiss your charges. For example, your lawyer could thoroughly explain what you did and where you were when the victim passed away. Additionally, your attorney can look into the situation and present evidence in court to show why someone would hold you responsible for a crime you did not initially commit.
Find an Experienced Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Do you or a loved one in Los Angeles face accusations of involuntary manslaughter?
In California, involuntary manslaughter carries harsh penalties, including jail time and a hefty fine. Understanding the charges and your legal options is helpful if you want to avoid a guilty verdict and suffering the repercussions of a criminal conviction. To ensure a smooth legal process, our team at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney provides legal support and direction. We also develop the most effective defense plans to help your case succeed. To find out more about how you can profit from our legal services, contact us at 424-333-0943.