Involuntary Manslaughter: An Overview

Involuntary manslaughter generally refers to any unintentional killing caused by criminal negligence or recklessness. Criminal negligence is often triggered when you owe a duty to a victim and fail to uphold it, causing them harm or death.

In order for you to be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, three conditions must be met:

  • Your act caused the death of another person
  • The act was committed with disregard for human life or was inherently dangerous; and
  • You knew or should have known that the act endangered human life.

Note that acts need not be illegal to result in involuntary manslaughter. Legal acts, such as administering medical care, can result in involuntary manslaughter charges if they are done recklessly and cause death.

Some states also have statutes stating that a death that is caused during the commission of a low-level crime, such as a misdemeanor theft, is also grounds for involuntary manslaughter charges.

Involuntary Manslaughter vs. Murder

The biggest difference between involuntary manslaughter and other charges is intent. For a killing to be a homicide, for example, you must have had a specific desire to cause the victim’s death, or the intent to kill. For involuntary manslaughter, you must only have committed an act without consideration of the lives of others.

Some states, such as Minnesota, use the term second-degree manslaughter instead of involuntary manslaughter. However, the charges are essentially the same. First-degree manslaughter would be equivalent to voluntary manslaughter. 

What Is the Difference Between Involuntary and Voluntary Manslaughter?

The difference between involuntary and voluntary manslaughter also comes down to intent. With voluntary manslaughter, the killing is typically intentional. It is generally brought about as a result of a provocation or heat of passion. The intent is only present at the actual time of the killing.

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, involves no intent to kill at any time.

Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter

Since involuntary manslaughter can occur alongside both a lawful and an unlawful act, there are numerous examples of this crime. One of the most common examples involves driving while under the influence. If you get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you likely have no intent to kill someone. However, most people know, or should know, that driving drunk poses a serious danger to others.

Involuntary manslaughter may also be an appropriate charge in other driving situations, such as illegal street racing or driving recklessly.

Other types of reckless behavior can also result in involuntary manslaughter charges. Consider the reckless discharge of a firearm. Let us say you recklessly shoot a gun into a crowded space, for example. You may not necessarily mean to kill a particular person, but if the firearm causes death, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Physical altercations can also often lead to involuntary manslaughter charges. If two people are in a physical fight one person can fall and hit their head or otherwise be fatally injured. While the act of shoving was intentional, the killing itself is not.

Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is usually a felony. The specific sentences will, however, vary among different states. States use their own sentencing guidelines when determining the sentence of an involuntary manslaughter charge. The judge will also see if there are any mitigating or aggravating factors. These include whether:

  • You have a history of reckless behavior in the past
  • You accept responsibility for your actions
  • You were severely emotionally distressed
  • You have a previous conviction

At the federal level, you could be facing a 10 to a 16-month prison sentence. This sentence can increase if you were involved in reckless conduct.

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

The prosecution bears the burden of proving that you are guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Although that is the case, it’s probably best to hire a criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with involuntary manslaughter. A lawyer will be able to present a defense against the charges. Some possible defenses to involuntary manslaughter include:

  • It was an accident: You can claim this defense if you can show the incident happened without you being reckless or negligent.
  • You committed the act in self-defense: If you can show that you were protecting yourself from imminent death or serious harm, you may be acquitted.
  • You were wrongfully arrested: You can get an acquittal if you can show that the prosecution has the wrong suspect.
  • The prosecution has insufficient evidence: The prosecution must prove all the elements of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. A defendant can use this defense if they can show the prosecution doesn’t have sufficient evidence to support their charge.

A criminal defense lawyer could also argue whether or not law enforcement followed all necessary procedures in making the arrest.

Speak to an Experienced Involuntary Manslaughter Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified involuntary manslaughter lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local involuntary manslaughter attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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