Manslaughter is one of California's most misunderstood crimes. It is often referred to as murder when someone is killed, although that isn't always the case. Manslaughter, according to California law, is the wrongful killing of someone else without malice.
Being convicted of manslaughter will most likely have long-term consequences for both you as well as your loved ones. But with the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer, you might be able to contest your charges and either get a reduced sentence or even have the charges dismissed.
At the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, our skilled and devoted attorneys have extensive experience dealing with violent crimes, including manslaughter. Contact us today for a free initial and personalized consultation.
Definition of Manslaughter Under California Law
Manslaughter is defined in California PC 192 as the illegal killing of someone else without malice. Manslaughter differs from murder in that, for manslaughter, the victim is killed without the accused intending to do so. In contrast, murder requires that the defendant shows malicious intent to cause the victim's death.
Manslaughter is, therefore, defined as an illegal killing that doesn't involve any of the following elements:
- Predetermined intent
Manslaughter is a less serious charge than murder. However, in some cases, persons who have been found guilty of murder could have the charges lowered to manslaughter when certain circumstances are present. This isn't to say that manslaughter is a minor crime. It is a serious offense, although it carries lesser consequences than murder.
According to California law, there are three different categories of manslaughter:
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Involuntary manslaughter
Vehicular manslaughter, as defined by California PC 192 (c), arises when someone negligently operates a vehicle and results in another person's death. This is commonly referred to as negligent homicide.
Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross negligence Under California Penal Code 192 (c) (i)
For the prosecution to prosecute you with gross negligence, they must prove several elements. Among these elements are:
- You perpetrated a misdemeanor or an infraction while operating a vehicle or engaged in legal conduct in a manner that was likely to lead to death
- The conduct you participated in threatened other people's lives
- You perpetrated the act with gross negligence
- As a result, someone else died
Below is a summary of every one of the components mentioned above.
You Committed a Misdemeanor or an Infraction or Participated in a Legal Action That Was Most Likely to Result in Death
You'll probably be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter when you:
- Either perpetrate a misdemeanor offense or infraction, or
- Take part in a lawful act that has the likelihood of resulting in a fatality.
For example, Matthew receives a call from his girlfriend while driving through the congested streets of Los Angeles. He decides to take the call while still on the road (which counts as an infraction under California traffic law). Matthew loses control of his car and collides with a driver, who passes away immediately.
Matthew will undoubtedly be prosecuted with vehicular manslaughter since his actions caused someone else's demise while operating the vehicle and perpetrating an infraction.
But, if you had been conducting a felony and killed another person using a vehicle, you would almost certainly be charged with murder.
Gross negligence is a significant component in vehicular manslaughter proceedings. This goes far beyond a lapse of judgment or perhaps a reckless act. The prosecution has to prove that:
- You engaged in reckless behavior that may have easily resulted in severe physical harm or death
- A reasonable person would also have understood that such actions would have threatened human life
When someone behaves in a way that varies from how a reasonable or cautious individual would have responded in the same circumstance, they are said to have engaged in gross negligence. The individual's behavior shows contempt for people's lives.
Resulting in the Death of Someone Else
Your reckless actions should have caused another person's demise for you to be found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence.
Remember that the demise should have occurred as a probable, foreseeable, or direct consequence of your actions. Even though the victim did not pass away due to your gross conduct, you could still be found guilty of the same offense if there was a major element that made death foreseeable.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence
According to California law, this crime is prosecuted as a wobbler, which means that based on your previous convictions and the nature of the incident, you could be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor. The following punishments could be imposed on you when you have been found guilty of a misdemeanor offense under California PC 192 (c) (i):
- One-year incarceration in a county jail
- Fines of up to $1,000
- A misdemeanor probation
You could be subject to the penalties below if you are found guilty of a felony offense under California PC 192 (c) (i):
- Six-year incarceration in a California state prison
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Supervised probation
Vehicular Manslaughter Under California Penal Code 192(c)(ii)
This is also known as misdemeanor manslaughter. The prosecution needs to prove the following components beyond a shadow of a doubt to secure a conviction:
- You perpetrated a misdemeanor or an infraction while operating an automobile, or you performed a lawful act unlawfully
- The action you perpetrated presented a substantial threat to other people's lives, provided you
- Committed the deed with negligence
- Acted in a way that led to the death of another person
The primary distinction between vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and vehicular manslaughter would be that vehicular manslaughter requires you to behave negligently or take reasonable precautions to avoid causing harm to someone else.
Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter Penalties
You would probably be subject to the following punishments if found guilty of simple vehicular manslaughter in California:
- One-year incarceration in a county jail
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Informal probation
Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain California Penal Code 192 (c) (iii)
The prosecution must conclusively demonstrate the following for the defendant to be found guilty under Penal Code 192(c)(iii):
- You deliberately caused or took part in an accident while operating a motor vehicle
- You did this to submit a fraudulent insurance claim to profit financially
- You meant to scam the insurance provider or another entity
- Another individual was killed as a result of the crash
To put it another way, vehicular manslaughter for financial gain refers to intentionally driving negligently to commit insurance fraud and kill someone.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter Committed for Financial Gain
You'll be charged with a felony if found guilty following Penal Code 192(c)(iii). The penalties could consist of the following:
- Detention in a California state jail for up to ten years
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Having your driving privileges suspended
If you have been accused of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence or vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, your driver's license could be revoked. When the California Department of motor vehicles suspends your license, you cannot reinstate it for 3 years.
Be aware that there may be additional charges if you drive while your license has been revoked.
Legal Defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter Charges
You can contest your charges by enlisting the assistance of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer. The following are some examples of legal defenses for vehicular manslaughter:
Your Actions Were Not Negligent
Despite the difficulty of proving this argument, your lawyer can assist you in demonstrating that you didn't act negligently. For example, you can contend that you struck a passenger by mistake while driving through the streets of Los Angeles.
The Victim Passed Away Due to an Unrelated Illness and Not Because of Your Negligence
Even though it may be difficult to prove a number of these arguments, you can do so with the help of experts, witnesses, and your lawyer.
For example, suppose Joe and his friends had gotten into a fight by the side of the road, Joe pushed one of his friends onto the road, and then you hit him by accident. You can't be charged with vehicular manslaughter since their negligence, not yours, caused his death.
According to California Penal Code 192(b), involuntary manslaughter is defined as the illegal killing of an individual due to criminal negligence. Involuntary manslaughter is different from murder in that it does not call for the presence of malicious intent.
Understanding What Involuntary Manslaughter Entails
According to California laws, there are several components that the prosecution must establish beyond a shadow of a doubt for you to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. They consist of the following:
- You perpetrated a lawful act unlawfully, or you committed a felony offense that was not risky, or an infraction, misdemeanor, or a crime that was less serious than a felony
- Your conduct was criminally negligent
- Your actions result in the death of another individual
Each one of the elements mentioned above is explained in detail below.
You Perpetrated an Infraction or a Misdemeanor, or You Committed a Legal Act Illegally
Involuntary manslaughter charges may only be brought against you if you commit an offense. Involuntary manslaughter does not include freak accidents. Here are a few examples of the offenses:
- A felony offense that isn't necessarily dangerous
- A misdemeanor offense
- An infraction
- A legal act committed in an unlawful manner
You'll be prosecuted for murder rather than involuntary manslaughter when you kill another person while perpetrating an inherently dangerous felony offense.
Criminally Negligent Act
This is among the essential aspects of involuntary manslaughter charges. The prosecution must demonstrate that you behaved with criminal negligence, regardless of whether an underpinning legal act or original crime resulted in your sentencing. Criminal negligence does not include carelessness, lack of attention, or errors in judgment.
Criminal negligence arises when:
- You engage in reckless behavior that could easily result in serious physical harm or a fatality
- A cautious individual would have understood that the actions would threaten people's lives.
Caused the Death of Another Individual
You are considered to have caused someone else's death if your actions directly or indirectly contributed to their demise, and they would not have died otherwise. Additionally, the prosecution must demonstrate that a sensible individual would have recognized that the defendant's actions would likely result in death. Under California laws, defendants could also be charged with concealing accidental deaths.
Involuntary Manslaughter as a Result of Failure to Perform a Legal Obligation
According to California law, this type of offense has different definitions and elements. The prosecutor needs to demonstrate the following beyond any reasonable doubt for you to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter under legal duty:
- You had a legal obligation to the victim
- You didn't fulfill your legal obligation
- Due to criminal negligence, you failed to carry out your obligations
- Your negligence led to the loss of the life of another individual
It is important to note that in such a case, only the court has the authority to evaluate whether the perpetrator owed the plaintiff a right of legal responsibility. Examples of relationships that entail a legal duty include the following:
- Relationships between individuals where one of them assumes obligations and responsibilities for the other
- A paid caregiver and the individual they are employed to care for
- A parent with their child
Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter
An involuntary manslaughter offense is tried as a felony crime under California statutes. Its penalties include:
- Hefty fines of no more than $10,000
- Serving a prison term of 4 years
- Formal probation
In many cases, the plaintiff's family would pursue a civil suit against the offender. If the accused loses the lawsuit, they could be subjected to severe and harsh civil punishments. Furthermore, if you used a gun or any other deadly weapon to murder and are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the charges would be considered a strike crime.
Legal Defenses Against Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
You can use several defenses to minimize or beat the charges with the help of a defense attorney. Some of the common involuntary manslaughter defenses include:
You Accidentally Killed the Person
Generally, all involuntary manslaughter cases are accidental because the accused has no intention to kill when the crime happens. Therefore, using this defense strategy can be difficult. As a result, you should demonstrate that:
- You ought to have intended to engage in the crime
- You didn't engage in criminal negligence
- You were cautious and took legal action at the point the incident occurred
You could argue that you were defending yourself or another person when the killing took place. It should be noted that this legal argument is only compelling if:
- The defendant believed that they needed to use force to defend themself and other people from danger
- The accused used appropriate force and didn't use excessive force in defending themself or others
- The defendant believed that they were at risk of being murdered or harassed sexually
If you can show these facts beyond any reasonable doubt, your charges could be dismissed or reduced.
Lack of Evidence
If the prosecutor can prove the underlying elements, you will be guilty of involuntary manslaughter. When a murder occurs, law enforcement authorities make hasty decisions and turn the case over to the prosecution without sufficient proof. A skilled criminal lawyer can assist you in developing evidence to demonstrate that you're innocent of the offense charged against you.
According to California PC 192a, voluntary manslaughter is the illegal action of killing another individual during an argument or a heat of passion. To be found guilty under this provision, the accused should have had malicious intentions to kill.
The prosecution does not often prosecute voluntary manslaughter cases. Instead, they emerge as a result of the following:
- Plea deal bargain in murder cases
- As a lesser-involved murder case instead of a murder
Understanding What Voluntary Manslaughter Entails
Voluntary manslaughter is defined by California law as killing someone else in the heat of passion or during a dispute owing to imperfect defense. However, under California statutes, the prosecution should prove beyond any reasonable doubt that:
- You were provoked by someone else
- Provocation caused you to react emotionally and without sound judgment
- If put in a similar situation, a rational individual would have responded hastily
- You had ample time to cool down between the trigger and when the crime occurred
Provocative gestures and remarks are insufficient to lower murder charges to manslaughter.
Penalties of Voluntary Manslaughter
Punishments for a voluntary manslaughter offense vary depending on the circumstances of the case, your previous convictions, and the jurisdiction. If you have been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, you may be subject to the following punishments:
- Serving a maximum prison term of 11 years
- Hefty fines not exceeding $10,000
- Mandatory counseling sessions
- Community service
- Getting a strike on the California Three-strikes law
- Losing your firearm ownership rights
Before deciding on your sentence, the judge will consider several aggravating factors in the case. The majority of aggravating conditions may increase the penalties. The common aggravating factors are:
- The brutality linked to the offense
- Your previous criminal history
- Vulnerability of the victim
Mitigating factors, as opposed to aggravating elements, may help lessen your punishments. This is most likely to occur if the magistrate believes you pose no threat to society. Examples of mitigating factors include:
- Your prior convictions
- Your mental capacity
- Whether you accepted responsibility for the offense
- Any offense that targets minors as victims is considered an aggravated offense
- Your age
Legal Defenses Against Voluntary Manslaughter Charges
You might use several defence techniques to challenge your voluntary manslaughter allegations and have them reduced or dropped entirely. However, since voluntary manslaughter is a serious crime, you should seek the counsel of an expert criminal lawyer to assist you in preparing the best defense for the case.
You Were Provoked
If you can convince the court that you had been provoked, you could have your murder charges reduced to manslaughter. However, the court will take into account certain things, such as:
- If a reasonable individual would have reacted differently if put in the same circumstances
- The window between when you got triggered and when the crime occurred
- Whether the preceding period was sufficient for a sensible individual to calm down
If, for example, the judge determines that the timeframe was insufficient for a sensible person to calm down, the magistrate may rule in the defendant's favor.
There is a limited amount of time that someone needs to calm down. The courts decide differently in each case depending on the events during the window and the facts presented.
It was an Accident
You can't be charged with manslaughter under California law when you killed someone else accidentally. You can demonstrate that you accidentally killed another person if:
- You had no intention of killing
- You didn't commit any unlawful act that might have led to someone else's death
- You didn't behave negligently or act in a way that endangered people's lives
When an offender has a mental disease or impairment that prevents them from discerning between right and wrong or from understanding the gravity of their crimes, their charges are automatically lowered.
However, to demonstrate that they have a mental illness that impairs their capacity to think clearly, an accused person must produce documents and evaluations from a certified medical facility.
Your charges could be dropped if you persuade the judge that the purported victim was the first aggressor. According to California law, individuals can exercise reasonable precautions and legal action to safeguard themselves. Nevertheless, the steps must have been justified, and the judge must review your testimony as well as the events leading up to and following the death.
Find a Manslaughter Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with manslaughter in Los Angeles, you can call our skilled and experienced attorneys at the Los Angeles Criminal Attorney. We are prepared to assist you in fighting for your rights and freedoms. Contact us right away for a personalized consultation at 424-333-0943.