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Involuntary Manslaughter: An Overview

Key Takeaways:

  • Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing caused by criminal negligence or recklessness.
  • This crime is different from murder because there is no criminal intent to kill.
  • A drunk driving accident that kills another person can be involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing caused by criminal negligence or recklessness. Criminal negligence is often triggered when you fail to act like a reasonable person, causing harm or death.

There are three elements for involuntary manslaughter:

  • Your act caused the death of another person;
  • You acted without regard for human life, or it was inherently dangerous; and
  • You knew or should have known that the act endangered human life.

Involuntary manslaughter laws can include legal acts. For example, recklessly administering medical care that causes death could be negligent homicide.

Manslaughter criminal charges may be different, depending on the state. If you or a loved one is facing manslaughter or murder charges, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Involuntary Manslaughter vs. Murder

The biggest difference between involuntary manslaughter and other homicide charges is intent. For a killing to be a homicide, you generally have the mental state to cause death or grievous bodily harm. For involuntary manslaughter, it is committing an act without thinking about hurting others.

Some states 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 due to a provocation or heat of passion. The intent is only present at the actual time of the killing.

Involuntary manslaughter involves no intent to kill at any time.

Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter

There are numerous examples of involuntary manslaughter involving lawful and unlawful acts. One of the most common examples involves driving under the influence (DUI). If you get behind the wheel while drunk, you likely have no intent to kill someone. However, you should know that driving drunk poses a serious danger to others, including a risk of death.

Other types of involuntary manslaughter with a motor vehicle include illegal street racing or reckless driving. This is also known as vehicular manslaughter.

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

What Are the Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is usually a felony. The specific penalties can depend on state penal codes. States use their sentencing guidelines when determining a criminal sentence. The judge will also see if there are any aggravating or mitigating factors, including:

  • History of reckless behavior in the past
  • Accepting responsibility for your actions
  • Severe emotional distressed
  • Prior criminal record

Under federal law, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. Involuntary manslaughter is committing an act that might produce death, done without due caution and circumspection. The federal penalties include up to 8 years in prison.

In some states, death caused during the commission of a low-level crime could be involuntary manslaughter.

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

In criminal law, the prosecutor has the burden of proof. The district attorney must show you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. 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. It is an affirmative defense if you can show that you were protecting yourself from imminent death.
  • You were wrongfully arrested. 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 show that the prosecution doesn’t have enough evidence to support their charge.

A criminal defense lawyer could also show that law enforcement officers violated your legal rights. To understand the best legal defense available in your case, speak with an involuntary manslaughter defense attorney.

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