Homicide encompasses various acts that result in the death of another person. Some do not necessarily involve criminal intent. Homicide is classified into various categories. These include murder, manslaughter, and justifiable homicide.
Involuntary manslaughter falls under the category of unlawful homicide. Involuntary manslaughter is covered under Penal Code Section 192(b). A jury will find you guilty of a PC 192(b) violation if you unintentionally kill another person without malice aforethought. The lack of malice aforethought means that negligence, recklessness, or committing an unlawful act caused the unintentional killing. You could not have intended to cause death when you acted. However, your actions led to the unintended loss of life.
Long Beach attorneys at California Criminal Lawyer Group explain the offense below.
Involuntary Manslaughter Under California Law
Negligent or accidental homicide are alternative terms used to refer to involuntary manslaughter. Under PC 192(b), a jury can only find you guilty if prosecutors prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Commission of a crime or illegal act — You must have committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or a non-inherently dangerous felony. Alternatively, unlawfully committing a legal act is also a basis for involuntary manslaughter. This means engaging in conduct that is either prohibited by law or performing a legal act but doing so in an unlawful manner.
- Criminal negligence — Your actions must demonstrate criminal negligence. Criminal negligence refers to a reckless disregard for human life. It also refers to a lack of reasonable care and caution that a rational person would exercise in a similar situation. Your conduct must go beyond ordinary negligence and show a higher degree of culpability.
- Causation — Criminal negligence must be a substantial factor in causing another person's death. Your actions or omissions must directly contribute to the demise of the victim.
Here is a detailed analysis of each element to help you understand the practical implications.
a) Commission of an Offense or Illegal Act
Involuntary manslaughter requires the defendant's involvement in a wrongful act. It does not include actual accidents. The wrongful action can fall into one of the following categories:
- An infraction — This refers to a low-level offense that usually results in a fine, including a traffic violation. For example, running a red light, a violation of Vehicle Code 21453.
- A misdemeanor violation — Involuntary manslaughter can result from the commission of a misdemeanor offense. Misdemeanors are more serious offenses compared to infractions. However, they are less serious than a felony.
- A non-inherently dangerous felony — If you commit a felony that is not deemed inherently dangerous, it can lead to involuntary manslaughter charges. In this case, the felony you committed should not be inherently dangerous, like vandalism, which is a violation of PC 594.
- Unlawful act (not necessarily a crime) — Involuntary manslaughter can also arise from an action that is not a felony but is performed in an unlawful manner. This means engaging in a lawful activity but doing it in a way considered unlawful. An example would be negligently discharging a firearm, which is a violation of PC 246.3.
Note: If someone causes a death while committing an inherently dangerous felony, they would not be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Instead, they would face murder charges under California's "felony murder rule".
b) Criminal Negligence
Under California law, criminal negligence is a higher degree of negligence beyond ordinary negligence. It involves a reckless disregard for human life or a lack of reasonable care and caution that a rational person would exercise in similar circumstances.
Criminal negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care. Thus leading to a significant risk of death or severe bodily harm to another individual. It means your conduct significantly deviates from what a rational person would have done in the same situation. Therefore, you displayed a wanton disregard for the potential consequences of your actions.
To establish criminal negligence, the prosecution must demonstrate that your behavior was more than mere inadvertence, mistake, or error in judgment. Prosecutors must prove that you acted with a level of negligence. This negligence should amount to a conscious and voluntary disregard for the safety and well-being of others.
The evaluation of criminal negligence is contingent upon the particular circumstances of each case. It requires an evaluation of your conduct in light of the foreseeable risks and the standard of care expected in a specific situation.
An act is deemed to have "caused" another individual’s death if the following conditions are met:
- Directness — The act must have a clear and immediate connection to the individual's death. The resulting death should be a reasonably foreseeable outcome of your actions.
- Natural consequence — The death should be a natural consequence of the act. In other words, it should be the outcome that would commonly occur based on the nature of the action.
- Probability — The death should be a probable consequence of the act. This signifies that a rational individual would perceive that the action carries a substantial likelihood of causing death.
- Absence of act — The death would not have occurred without the act in question. The act must be a substantial factor in bringing about the killing.
For an act to be considered the cause of death, it must be directly connected or have a probable and natural consequence. Additionally, the demise would not have happened without that act. Further, a reasonable person should have recognized the likelihood of death occurring.
Involuntary Manslaughter Based on Duty
You can face involuntary manslaughter charges if you fail to perform a legal duty. Under Penal Code 192(b), involuntary manslaughter can be established when a person fails to fulfill a legal duty, and the failure results in the unintentional death of another individual. It has a distinct legal definition, which includes the following elements:
- Legal duty — You must have had a legal obligation towards the victim. Judges determine whether this duty exists rather than a jury.
- Failure to perform the legal duty — Prosecutors must prove you failed to fulfill the legal duty owed to the victim. This failure could involve acts of omission, where you were responsible for taking specific actions but failed to do so.
- Criminal negligence — Your failure to perform your legal duty must be characterized by criminal negligence. Criminal negligence refers to a reckless disregard for the safety and well-being of others. It also refers to a lack of reasonable care that a prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances.
- Causal connection — Failure to perform your legal duty must cause the victim's death. There must be a demonstrable link between the defendant's omission and the resulting fatality.
Examples of relationships with a legal duty include the parent-child relationship, a paid caretaker's responsibility towards the person under their care, and situations where one person holds an assumed responsibility for another.
Penalties if Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter
Under California law, involuntary manslaughter is considered a felony offense, and the penalties can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Generally, the sentences for involuntary manslaughter can include:
- A prison sentence of two, three, or four years.
- A fine of up to $10,000.
- Formal probation instead of a prison sentence.
- Restitution to the victim's family.
If the courts find you guilty of involuntary manslaughter after accidentally killing a third party with a firearm or other dangerous weapon, the conviction will result in a "strike" under California's "three strikes law".
If the victim was a peace officer, firefighter, or other specified law enforcement officer, the penalty for involuntary manslaughter is increased to a minimum of three years and a maximum of 11 years in state prison.
Civil Consequences of Involuntary Manslaughter
California Code of Civil Procedure Sections 377.60 to 377.62 allow surviving family members to seek civil penalties for their loved one's demise. You could face civil liability if you are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Plaintiffs will pursue civil penalties through a wrongful death lawsuit. Family members can file the claim if the victim believes their loved one died due to your wrongful or negligent actions.
If the jury finds you liable for the wrongful death, you will pay a significant sum as damages. These civil consequences can be imposed in addition to the criminal penalties and fines associated with involuntary manslaughter.
Note: The burden of proof in a wrongful death case is lower than in a criminal case. The plaintiff is only required to prove that it is more likely than not that you were responsible for the death.
The specific value of damages the courts could award the plaintiff(s) in a wrongful death case varies depending on various factors. These include the victim's age, earning potential, and the emotional and financial impact on the surviving family members. These damages compensate the family for the loss they have suffered due to the death of their loved one.
Defenses You Can Assert in Involuntary Manslaughter Cases
In involuntary manslaughter cases, several defenses can be asserted depending on the case's specific circumstances. You should consult with an attorney specializing in criminal defense. He/she will help you settle on the most appropriate defense strategy. Here are some commonly applicable defenses:
a) Self-Defense or in Defense of Others
You can argue that you acted in self-defense or defense of others. However, this defense is applicable under certain circumstances. The defense of self-defense or the defense of others asserts that your actions were justified. You must have had a reasonable belief that there was an immediate and significant risk of grave bodily harm or death. The threat can be to yourself or another person. Therefore, your use of force was necessary to defend against that threat.
To present a strong defense in an involuntary manslaughter case, it is necessary to substantiate the following elements with supporting evidence:
- Reasonable belief — It is crucial to present evidence demonstrating a reasonable belief in the imminence of a threat to your or a third party's life. This belief must be grounded in the circumstances you encountered at the time and not influenced by hindsight.
- Proportionate response — Your use of force must be proportional to the perceived threat. You should only have used force necessary to defend yourself or others from harm. Excessive or unnecessary force could undermine the self-defense claim.
- Imminent threat — The threat you faced or the person you were defending must have been unavoidable. This means that it was immediate and inevitable. The defense of self-defense is typically not applicable if there is no immediate threat.
- No reasonable alternative — You must demonstrate you had no reasonable opportunity to retreat or escape. Therefore, the use of force was warranted to prevent the harm.
Note: You bear the burden of proof when asserting self-defense. You need to present evidence supporting your claim.
b) Accidental Killing
An accidental killing defense can be asserted in cases of involuntary manslaughter. Your attorney will argue that the death occurred unintentionally and was purely accidental. Further, the killing lacked criminal intent or gross negligence.
The following factors are typically considered in support of this defense:
- Lack of intent — You must show no intention to cause harm. Alternatively, it must be clear that you did not aim to engage in dangerous or reckless behavior that could foreseeably result in death.
- Absence of gross negligence — Your attorney will argue that you did not exhibit a high degree of negligence or recklessness that would amount to criminal conduct. Instead, the death resulted from an unforeseeable accident or a mistake.
- Lack of criminal conduct — Your attorney will emphasize that your actions were not criminal. However, they were an unfortunate occurrence that could not have been reasonably predicted or prevented.
Additionally, it is crucial to present supporting evidence. These include witness testimonies, expert opinions, or forensic analysis. This evidence will demonstrate that the death was accidental and not due to your criminal behavior or negligence.
c) Mistaken Belief
You can raise the "mistaken belief" defense in an involuntary manslaughter case. Raising this defense requires you to argue that you had a genuine and reasonable belief, although mistaken, that your actions were necessary to protect yourself or others from harm. The courts consider the following factors:
- Reasonable belief — You must show that you held a genuine belief. It should be based on the circumstances as they appeared to you. Your actions should have also been necessary to defend against an imminent threat of grave bodily harm or death.
- Mistaken belief — Your attorney will assert that your belief, although erroneous, was reasonable given the information available to them at the time. It could involve a misperception or misinterpretation of the situation. This misinterpretation then resulted in the mistaken belief that your actions were necessary.
- Lack of criminal intent — Your attorney will emphasize that you did not have any criminal intent or the purpose to cause harm. Your actions were the result of a mistaken belief. They should not result from a deliberate disregard for the law or human life.
Mistaken belief and self-defense share some similarities but differ in crucial aspects. While both defenses involve a belief held by the defendant regarding the need to protect oneself or others from harm, there are important distinctions between the two:
- The imminence of the threat — Self-defense typically requires the belief in immediate and imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death. The threat must be present at the time of the act. In contrast, mistaken belief defense focuses on the defendant's genuine but mistaken belief about the need for self-defense. The belief could not necessarily involve an imminent threat. However, you could have misunderstood the situation.
- Reasonableness of the belief — The belief in the need for self-defense is objectively reasonable in self-defense cases. The law evaluates whether a reasonable person, placed in similar circumstances, would have made a similar conclusion as the defendant. In contrast, the defense of mistaken belief recognizes that the defendant genuinely believed their actions were necessary for self-defense, even if that belief was not objectively reasonable. This holds even if that belief was based on a mistaken understanding of the circumstances. The focus is on the defendant's subjective perspective and what they honestly believed at the time.
- Use of force — Self-defense requires a reasonable use of force. It must be proportional to the perceived threat. The mistaken belief defense acknowledges that the defendant could have used force or taken action based on their mistaken belief, even if that belief was not objectively reasonable. The defense seeks to establish that the defendant's mistaken belief influenced their actions. However, it could not necessarily justify using force if a reasonable person would not have perceived the same threat.
d) You Were Falsely Accused and Wrongfully Arrested
If you believe you have been falsely accused or wrongfully arrested for involuntary manslaughter, you can assert your innocence and protect your rights. To challenge false accusations or a wrongful arrest for involuntary manslaughter, your defense attorney could employ various strategies, including:
- Establishing an alibi — If you can provide evidence or witnesses that confirm your presence elsewhere during the incident, it can undermine the credibility of the accusations against you.
- Challenging the evidence — Your attorney will scrutinize the prosecution's evidence. He/she will assess witness statements, forensic reports, or expert testimony. The aim is to identify inconsistencies, biases, or flaws that could weaken the case against you.
- Presenting an alternative theory — Your defense team could propose an alternative explanation for the incident that does not involve your involvement or culpability.
- Demonstrating lack of intent or negligence — If the prosecution fails to establish that you acted with criminal negligence or that your actions caused the victim's death, it can weaken their case against you.
- Uncovering procedural errors or misconduct — Your attorney will examine the arrest procedures, investigation methods, and collection of evidence to identify any constitutional violations or misconduct that could lead to the dismissal of charges or suppression of evidence.
Remember, the specific defense strategies will depend on the unique circumstances of your case. A skilled criminal defense attorney will assess the evidence and investigate the facts. He/she will then develop the most effective defense strategy tailored to your situation.
Offenses Related to Involuntary Manslaughter
a) Voluntary Manslaughter
Penal Code 192(a) addresses voluntary manslaughter. The crime involves intentionally killing another person without premeditation or malice aforethought. It is considered a lesser offense compared to murder. The critical distinction between murder and voluntary manslaughter is the presence of adequate provocation or heat of passion that led to the killing.
Prosecutors establish voluntary manslaughter by proving the following elements as true:
- Unlawful killing — You must have caused the death of another person.
- Intent — You must have intended to kill or cause serious bodily harm to the victim.
- Adequate provocation — You must have been provoked by sufficient and reasonable provocation. The provocation must be of a nature that would reasonably cause an average person to react impulsively or without careful consideration.
- The heat of passion — You must have acted in the heat of passion. This means your emotions were so aroused that you temporarily lost self-control due to the provocation.
Voluntary manslaughter carries stricter penalties compared to involuntary manslaughter in California. The potential penalties for voluntary manslaughter include the following:
- Felony probation with a one-year jail sentence.
- A prison sentence of 3, 6, or 11 years.
- A fine of up to $10,000.
Additionally, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter can result in a "strike" on your record. The "three strikes law" imposes more severe penalties for individuals with previous convictions for serious or violent felonies. A "strike" offense can have significant consequences, including longer prison sentences and increased future penalties if convicted of subsequent crimes.
Find a Reputable Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Facing charges of involuntary manslaughter is a serious and complex matter. It requires skilled legal representation. The penalties and consequences associated with these charges can be life-altering. It is essential to have a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights, navigate the legal process, and mount a strong defense on your behalf.
If you or someone you know is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter in Long Beach and needs legal representation, contact the California Criminal Lawyer Group. We will guide you, evaluate the specific details of your case, and work tirelessly to protect your interests.
Do not face these charges alone. Contact our team today at 562-966-8120 and let us help protect your rights. Work with us to ensure you secure the best possible outcome in your case.