Violent crimes that cause victims’ death subject defendants to stringent punishments under California law if found guilty. The severe consequences of such charges and their penalties impact your life in the present and the long-term.
Investing in quality legal representation is the best step you can take when charged with involuntary manslaughter. A criminal defense attorney helps you prove your innocence or bargain for less severe penalties if found guilty. They will also ensure that you are well informed of your rights and how you can use robust defenses against the charges.
At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are equipped with the best legal tactics to defend clients facing criminal charges. We are results-oriented and will stop at nothing to ensure your best interests are preserved during all court proceedings. We can take on your case at any stage and help you through it until its end. Our law firm is based in Los Angeles, California. Contact us for more information on the services we offer.
Definition of Involuntary Manslaughter under State Law
The illegal killing of a human being is known as a homicide. Under a homicide offense, a prosecutor can file murder or manslaughter charges. Murder is the deliberate killing of a person, while manslaughter is killing someone without making prior plots. Furthermore, manslaughter is divided into voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular manslaughter.
California’s involuntary manslaughter law, Penal Code 192(b), states that the crime entails killing someone unintentionally when you were; either committing a crime that is not fundamentally a dangerous felony or committing a legal act produces anticipatable death.
Like other manslaughter charges, involuntary manslaughter does not have a statute of limitations; that is, you can be charged with the crime at any time without consideration of the period that has passed after the crime was committed. Unlike murder, which is planned out killing, involuntary manslaughter is done without intent to kill. Moreover, if you kill someone in a California misdemeanor's commission, it is also deemed as involuntary manslaughter.
For instance, while trying to grab an older woman’s handbag in the streets, Person C pulls on the bag too hard, causing the woman to fall on the pavement. The woman suffers a heart attack due to the trauma and dies on the way to the hospital. In trying to steal the handbag, person C was committing a misdemeanor crime that caused the woman’s death, therefore breaching Penal Code 192(b).
Furthermore, any negligent act that causes the death of another human being is charged as a violation of Penal Code 192(b). Negligence is whereby you violate a duty of care owed to other persons. Additionally, gross negligence occurs when you intentionally act in a way that poses the risk of someone suffering from fatal physical injury or death. The difference between ordinary negligence and gross negligence is that the latter involves extreme disregard for human life while the other is commonplace neglect.
Elements of the Crime
California Misdemeanor Crimes
Firstly, you are prosecuted under Penal Code 192(b) if your California misdemeanor's commission leads to a human being's death. A California misdemeanor is any minor crime that carries a penalty of not more than a one-year jail term or one with a fine of up to $1,000.
Examples can be low-level offenses that are punishable by a fine, such as violation of traffic rules or disturbing the peace of other individuals or any other crimes classified as misdemeanors. To be charged under Penal Code 192(b), your action must have been wrong somehow. Therefore, if no wrong or negligent act was committed, you are not guilty of violating Penal Code 192(b).
Furthermore, felony offenses that are not considered as potentially dangerous can fall into this category. Consequently, any death caused by a felony commission considered inherently dangerous is charged as murder. An example of an “inherently dangerous” crime is robbery with a dangerous weapon. A dangerous weapon can include a knife, gun, blunt object, or any other lethal item.
Legal Act Done Unlawfully
Various acts of negligence from one person can lead to the death of another. If such acts of recklessness are not necessarily illegal, it is termed "a legal act carried out unlawfully." For instance, a police officer uses more force than necessary to arrest a suspect and lead to death. In such a case, the police officer did his/her duty, but they did it unlawfully.
Criminal negligence includes actions done thoughtlessly or irresponsibly that can pose a great risk of causing fatal physical injury or death to other persons or disregarding human life. Also, they are actions that a reasonable person would know could pose such risks. Criminal negligence includes acts that portray far from ordinary recklessness. If such acts are directly the cause of someone else's death, the offender is charged under Penal Code 192(b).
For instance, Woman B is a single mother to a five-year-old son. She starts dating a boyfriend who is always intoxicated and regularly beats up the boy. Woman B is afraid of losing her boyfriend; therefore, when the child complains to her, she tells the son that a little beating makes a child become a better person.
One day after a series of beatings, the child dies at night in his sleep. Later on, it is determined that the death was caused by severe trauma to the head caused by blows from the mother's boyfriend. The boyfriend and the mother are apprehended and charged.
In such a case, Woman B is charged with involuntary manslaughter because ignoring her boyfriend's wrong actions was criminal negligence. A reasonable person would have reported such actions to the police and protected the young boy from the abuse.
Causing Someone Else’s Death
For this crime, an action that was carried out by the respondent must directly be involved in causing a death. Meaning that if the action did not occur when it did, the deceased would still be alive. Also, if an act would naturally or probably lead to someone’s death, then committing that act makes you guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Failure to Perform a Legal Duty
Furthermore, if a judge discovers that you failed to perform a duty that you are legally obligated to do, you are held liable if the person dies. You will be guilty of involuntary manslaughter by failure to perform a legal duty if the prosecutor proves that:
- Yours obligated by law to oversee the duty to the victim;
- You failed to perform this duty;
- The act was done in criminal negligence;
- It led to the death of a person.
Examples of situations where legal duty is enforced, including a parent/guardian-child relationship, a person paid to take care of another person, and a relationship between two people. One assumes the other's responsibility.
Involuntary Manslaughter and Drugs
Involuntary manslaughter cases caused by drugs are of two types: abuse of drugs or wrong administration of drugs to patients. All medics owe a duty of care to their patients. Consequently, if they administer the wrong medication, dosage, or fail to administer medication to an ailing person under their supervision, and the patient dies, they are held liable.
Such was when Dr. Murray, the late pop singer Michael Jackson's doctor, was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He administered the propofol drug to the pop singer, which led to the singer’s death. On the other hand, if a drug user, especially in narcotics abuse, acts in a way that causes the death of a human being, they will face prosecution under Penal Code 192(b).
Difference between Involuntary Manslaughter and Self Defense
The difference between involuntary manslaughter and self-defense may seem blurred when looked at generally, but the law clearly distinguishes the two. Any act that leads to a person's death and lies within the elements of Penal Code 192(b) is outside the scope of self-defense. Consequently, understanding how far the self-defense law can stretch is vital.
Under California self-defense law, you are allowed to use reasonable force to repel someone trying to harm you physically or harm someone else as long as a danger of obtaining fatal physical injury is imminent. Furthermore, your use of reasonable force to prevent dangerous felonies from being committed, such as assault and battery, rape, robbery with an armed weapon, is allowed. You must prove that there were clear indications that the crime was about to be committed.
Moreover, for you to avoid involuntary manslaughter charges when acting in self-defense, you must comply with the above conditions and obey the duty of retreat. A duty of retreat requires you first to flee from a situation or location that could bring you harm; if you cannot escape, you can apply reasonable force to protect yourself. As long as you can prove that you only used the necessary force to overpower the offender, your act remains self-defense.
What the Prosecutor Needs To Prove
For you to be prosecuted and convicted of a violation of Penal Code 192(b), the prosecutor must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you:
- Violated a non-potentially dangerous California misdemeanor or unlawfully committed a legal act;
- The act was committed in “criminal negligence”;
- The commission of the act led to someone else’s death.
Once apprehended for involuntary manslaughter, your attorney can negotiate to be released on bail pending your arraignment in court. In California, the bails differ in each county and are led by guidelines stipulated by county judges. The bail for involuntary manslaughter starts at a minimum of $50 000.
If you commit involuntary manslaughter, your offense is charged as a felony under California criminal law. The offense carries a penalty of a jail term of a minimum of two years up to four years under subdivision (h) section 1170 of California Penal Code, formal felony probation, or a fine of up to $10,000. Furthermore, your prison sentence can be added by ten years if proved that you committed the crime in an accident aimed at a monetary gain.
An additional civil lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased often follows involuntary manslaughter cases. The respondent encounters stern civil judgment and a requirement to pay financial compensation to the bereaved family. Some of the claims that can be filed against you are: wrongful death, loss of consortium, funeral and burial services, and the income the deceased would have earned had he not died. The claims are additional penalties, and even after paying, the respondent will still serve their sentence.
Fortunately, following the amendment of the criminal justice of Penal Code 1170(h), defendants can request to serve their involuntary manslaughter sentence in the California Mental Health Department or county jail near their family as opposed to state prison. The option is valid for non-violent offenders prosecuted for misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter.
Following the conviction of foreigners in California of aggravated felonies or significant misdemeanors, they can face deportation or be deemed inadmissible. Crimes that lead to the deportation of defendants are known as "deportable crime," and involuntary manslaughter can depend on the circumstances of the commission of the crime.
Involuntary manslaughter is considered a violent crime; hence, it can be an aggravated felony depending on the events leading to the crime commission. Therefore, you want a criminal defense attorney by your side and a case review from a quality immigration attorney to determine if your case's specifics can lead to deportation or inadmissibility.
Aggravating Factors of Involuntary Manslaughter
Aggravating factors worsen the defendant’s chances of leniently being judged in court. The factors also lead to the enhancement of penalties or multiple charges. Aggravating factors for involuntary manslaughter charges can be:
- Commission of the crime under drug influence.
- If you committed the crime while negligently or illegally handling a dangerous weapon, and it leads to someone else's death.
- If you were priorly issued with a restraining order and you are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
- Previous convictions of violent crimes.
California Three Strikes Law
If a defendant is found guilty of violating Penal Code 192 (b) and a firearm or a deadly weapon was used, California's three-strikes law is prompted. California's three-strikes law allows offenders to be punished for subsequent crimes of violence or involve dangerous weapons.
First-time criminal offenders are punished leniently, and a criminal record of the offense is kept. A second strike on your record will lead to doubling the penalty of the crime you committed. For instance, if the penalty is four years in prison, you will serve eight years. The third strike on your record adds a twenty-five year state prison punishment into your sentence.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties for Juveniles
Under California law exists a separate juvenile justice system that focuses on cases of non-adult law violators. Depending on the seriousness of the crimes, minors undergo different judgments. The cases of juvenile offenders are judged in juvenile courts, and the primary role is to offer rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Consequently, if a minor is charged with involuntary manslaughter, they will most likely be required to undergo rehabilitation as the penalty. Before that decision is made, a fitness hearing is done for minors at least 14 years to determine if the minor is pliable to rehabilitation or arraigned in a juvenile court.
Minors who are below fourteen years and are not fit for rehabilitation programs. They are judged in a California juvenile court. The worst penalty for minors convicted of involuntary manslaughter in juvenile court is a requirement to follow conditions of the California Department of Corrections and the Division of Juvenile Facilities until they reach the age of 25 years. Death penalties for minors do not exist, no matter the nature of the crime.
Common Legal Defenses to Fight Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
Involuntary manslaughter sternly judged and lack of well-planned out defenses can leave you prone to severe penalties. Even worse, you face additional charges adding on to your punishments. Involving a highly experienced criminal defense attorney early on in your case is crucial so that he/she can begin working on your defense strategies. Some commonly employed mitigating factors against Penal Code 192(b) charges include:
Under Penal Code 192 (b), a charge can be filed due to a false accusation from someone or evidence being planted to incriminate you. A criminal defense attorney is essential in such a case; with an experienced attorney's help, you can unveil faults in the evidence presented against you. Your innocence can be easily proved, and the charges against you acquitted.
Under California Self-defense laws, you cannot be charged with a crime if you acted in self-defense or defense of another person. Self-defense laws are very adamant, and you must prove that the force you applied was reasonable for such a situation. You must also prove that you or someone else was in imminent danger of being physically harmed.
Upon filing charges against a defendant, the prosecutor must obtain credible evidence to prove the defendant's guilt. Consequently, if the prosecutor fails to carry through the burden of proof and judges deem the evidence against the respondent insufficient, the defendant's attorney can request the acquittal's charges.
It was an Accident
The person's death can occur due to a pure accident; a defendant did not commit any misdemeanor offense or act negligently. Consequently, the prosecutor cannot charge you with this crime if the events leading to a person's death were accidental. With your attorney’s help, you can prove your innocence and request for dismissal of the charges against you.
Crimes Related to Involuntary Manslaughter
Penal Code 187-California’s murder law is closely related to manslaughter crimes. The distinguishing factor from manslaughter is that murder is the deliberate and malice induced killing. Murder charges can be reduced to manslaughter or vice versa, depending on the evidence available against a respondent and the crime circumstances. Murder charges are in two categories, first-degree murder and second-degree murder.
A conviction of first-degree murder carries a penalty of 25-years to life imprisonment in the state prison; it can also include parole denial. Persons guilty of second-degree murder will be subject to a minimum penalty of 15 years to life imprisonment.
Voluntary manslaughter, Penal Code 192(a), is the commission of homicide without prior thought and often as a result of provocation or serious disagreement commonly termed as "heat of passion." Even if the defendant knowingly kills the person they disagreed with, the lack of malice puts the offense under voluntary manslaughter; since the killing resulted from intense emotions and not a previously planned act.
Voluntary manslaughter carries harsher penalties compared to involuntary manslaughter since it is deemed intentional. If charged as a misdemeanor, the penalty is a fine of $30,000 or a state prison term of 3, 6, or 11 years.
Involuntary Vehicular Manslaughter
Penal Code 192(c) - Involuntary vehicular manslaughter is whereby you accidentally kill a person while using a vehicle. The accident resulted because of the breaking of a law or bending a traffic rule. For instance, if you drive under alcohol influence and cause an accident, which leads to a person's death, you can face involuntary vehicular manslaughter charges. This crime is charged as a felony offense or a misdemeanor offense based on the case's circumstances.
As a misdemeanor, vehicular manslaughter carries a fine of not more than $1,000 or a jail term of one year, or probation. However, as a felony, the crime carries a fine of $10,000 or felony probation or a 6-year state prison term. Conviction of this crime can also lead to your driver’s license being revoked. Your sentence is aggravated in the case of a hit-and-run; five years are added to your prison term.
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Contact The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm as soon as you are informed of involuntary manslaughter charges against you, your friends, or your family member. We will assign you a proficient criminal defense attorney who will thoroughly analyze your case and promptly build a robust defense. We understand the subtle nature of manslaughter cases. Therefore, we won’t leave any stone unturned. We extend our services to all residents of Los Angeles and surrounding areas who has been charged with manslaughter. For more information, contact us at 310-935-1675.