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Involuntary Manslaughter

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What is "Involuntary Manslaughter"?

Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another human being caused by gross negligence. It is considered a lesser charge, below voluntary manslaughter (an intentional killing) and below second degree murder. It is different from second degree murder, another type of unintentional killing, as second degree murder requires that the defendant killed the victim due to extreme recklessness which means the defendant's actions is known to result in a high probability of death.

What Are the Elements of Involuntary Manslaughter Charges?

While each state has specific requirements for involuntary manslaughter, all states follow a general outline. In general, the three elements are required for a conviction of involuntary manslaughter are:

  1. A person is killed due to the actions of the defendant;
  2. The defendant’s actions were criminally negligent or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony; and
  3. The defendant knew or should have known that their actions were putting the lives of others at risk.

What Actions Show a Reckless Disregard for Human Life?

To determine whether an action shows a reckless disregard for human life, the court will ask whether a reasonable person should know that lives would be endangered due to the conduct. Some typical examples of reckless acts include: drinking and driving, storing dangerous materials (e.g. explosives, weapons), or driving at high speed through an area known to have many pedestrians.

What are the Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is one of the least serious types of homicide crimes. However, it is still classified as a felony under state and federal laws. Most states list involuntary manslaughter as a Class C or Class D felony. This can lead to legal penalties such as:

  • Moderate to high criminal fines
  • Prison sentences (usually ranging from 5-10 years)
  • Required counseling courses
  • Loss of the right to own a firearm
  • Duty to report the felony to future employers if requested

In many cases, alternative sentencing options or probation/parole may be available to the defendant, especially if it’s their first offense. On the other hand, aggravating factors may increase the sentence for the defendant (for example, if the killing involved the death of a police officer, woman, or child). 

How Does Involuntary Manslaughter Compare with Voluntary Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is generally divided into two different types: involuntary and voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is usually unintentional, thus making it less serious than other forms of homicide like murder.
In contrast, voluntary manslaughter can sometimes involve intentional acts by the defendant. It is usually defined as a homicide that results from conditions involving self-defense, provocation, or a death that occurs while committing a felony.

Should I Consult an Attorney about Involuntary Manslaughter Charges?

Involuntary manslaughter is a felony and carries with it severe legal penalties. If you are facing involuntary manslaughter charges you should immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. A skilled defense attorney can review your charges, gather evidence, interview witnesses, and advocate for you in court.

Photo of page author John Kirby

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-28-2017 12:43 PM PDT

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