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What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?
(Definition, Example & Punishments)

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt
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The act of unintentionally killing someone comes with two distinct legal classifications- voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter refers to tragic events caused by criminal negligence, recklessness, or misdemeanor.

With a history of over ten years as a criminal defense lawyer, I have been exposed to an array of involuntary manslaughter cases.

In this article, I will illustrate several examples of involuntary manslaughter.

Quick Summary

  • Involuntary manslaughter examples include texting while driving, workplace negligence, and medical malpractice.
  • Although involuntary manslaughter is not as harshly penalized as other types of homicide, it is still a serious crime.
  • Even businesses that fail to provide appropriate care may go on trial for corporate manslaughter charges.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Two people driving committing manslaughterInvoluntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing without the intent to cause grave harm or death, typically due to recklessness or extreme carelessness [1]. 

Comprehending the legal variation between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter necessitates understanding how the legislature outlines homicide.

For example, unlike involuntary killings, the state will evaluate a homicide, or the death of another person, depending on what occurred during that particular occasion. Certain states classify vehicular manslaughter as a distinct type of manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter Examples

A driver getting pulled over for involuntary manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter may be less severe than homicide, but it is still a serious crime.

Here are a few examples of unintentional killings that classify as involuntary manslaughter:

  • Killing someone while texting and driving a motor vehicle
  • Killing someone while speeding or committing another traffic violation
  • Taking a life while driving under the influence of intoxicants, such as alcohol or drugs.
  • Intentionally or unintentionally causing someone’s demise with a shot from an armament during a dispute.
  • Killing someone by improperly prescribing medication,
  • Illegally practicing medicine and resulting in the death of an individual.

If you or someone close to you has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, a reliable criminal defense attorney from an esteemed law firm can assist.

Elements Of Involuntary Manslaughter

When determining if an individual is guilty of involuntary manslaughter due to their intentional and unlawful behavior, the court will consider several factors.

If it can be proven that the defendant committed a criminal act that led directly to another person’s death, they may be found guilty in this instance. 

The Dangerousness Of The Act

Two drivers in a car screamingTo begin with, the court needs to determine whether or not the criminal activities carried out by the accused were dangerous.

When doing this assessment, they don’t consider if the perpetrator realized it could be risky; rather, they look at and ask what any average person would recognize as a threat.

The jury must then decide if said action exposed someone else to potential harm – even just a “little” bit of danger.

Proof Of The Elements Of The Unlawful Act

To be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, it must be established that an unlawful or dangerous act occurred with the knowledge of wrongdoing. If true, you could face a guilty verdict for your actions.

Involuntary Manslaughter By Gross Negligence

Two lawyers talking to each other

When someone owes a duty of care to another individual and then acts with such extreme negligence that it leads to the victim’s death, they may be charged with involuntary manslaughter due to their criminal negligence.

The courts will examine the following criteria when determining guilt in this case:

  • The defendant had an obligation to show care and attention toward the victim.
  • The defendant neglected to fulfill their duty of care due to reckless behavior.
  • The breach was responsible for the end of human life.
  • The criminally negligent homicide was reprehensible, signifying a profound lack of consideration for the well-being and security of others, leading to another person’s death.

If this evidence proves accurate, the defendant could be convicted of involuntary manslaughter charges.

Even businesses that fail in their responsibility to provide appropriate care may even go on trial for corporate manslaughter charges.

Related Articles: Negligent Homicide Sentence

What Are The Penalties For Involuntary Manslaughter? 

A person in court getting penalized for involuntary manslaughter

The penalties for involuntary manslaughter include a fine, probation, or jail time.

The length of the prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter can vary depending on which state it occurred in, what kind of manslaughter took place, and any aggravating or mitigating factors that are taken into account.

For example, in the state of California, repercussions for involuntary manslaughter are as follows:

  • A prison sentence of up to 4 years.
  • Fines up to $10,000.
  • According to California’s Three Strikes Law, if a killing is completed with an item that may be deemed dangerous or lethal – such as a gun – it will result in the offender receiving one strike [2].

“Homicide due to criminal negligence is involuntary manslaughter, a lesser charge than voluntary manslaughter.”
Ron Scott, Licensed Attorney Counsel

Common Defenses For Involuntary Manslaughter

A lawyer teaching defenses for involuntary manslaughterIn manslaughter cases, the defendant may use either an affirmative or negative legal defense.

If their innocence is genuine, we could demonstrate that they were wrongly accused due to mistaken identity or provide evidence of a valid alibi.

Self-defense is a legitimate claim we can make in court, mainly when the defendant acted out of fear or necessity to protect themselves from a deadly weapon.

In certain situations, we can challenge the credibility of the evidence presented against our clients, spotlight any holes in the prosecution’s case, and demonstrate that our client was unjustly accused or apprehended.

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How Is Involuntary Manslaughter Different From Voluntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is different from voluntary manslaughter in that the killing was unintentional. Involuntary manslaughter is an accidental death, whereas a voluntary one involves intentional killing without premeditation or malice. If the crime were carefully planned out in advance, then it would be deemed murder.

Is Involuntary Manslaughter A Felony Offense?

Yes, involuntary manslaughter is a felony offense. Furthermore, defendants could face a maximum fine of ten thousand dollars. Civil claims in wrongful death suits may be brought against the defendant alongside criminal charges.

What Is Heat Of Passion?

The heat of passion is the phrase we use to describe an intense and uncontrollable emotion that any reasonable person can feel in a highly-charged situation, and that is usually found in voluntary manslaughter. 

Contact A Criminal Defense Attorney Today

No two manslaughter cases are alike, so the best defense for you depends on your particular circumstances. Suppose you’re facing a possible charge of manslaughter.

In that case, Schmidt & Clark, LLP is here to help—we offer free consultations with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys who can advise you about the details and potential outcomes of your involuntary manslaughter case.



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