Involuntary manslaughter is among the most severe felony and violent offenses in California. Its conviction can be devastating since you will have to face hefty fines and lengthy prison time, among other punishments. The faster you seek help from an expert criminal defense attorney, the higher your capability of winning the charges against you will be. Defending involuntary manslaughter charges is a highly specialized area. Due to this fact and the fact that its penalties are severe, you must rely on an attorney that has in-depth knowledge and experience in defending specifically these kinds of cases.
At Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we boast the experience as well as the knowledge of the California criminal law. This enables us to provide a top-tier defense against any involuntary manslaughter charges. If you are facing these charges, reach out to us as soon as possible, so we can give your case the immediate attention it requires. In this article, we look at the California law on involuntary manslaughter offense.
The Definition of Involuntary Manslaughter
PC 192b is the statute defining an involuntary manslaughter offense. The law defines this crime as the unintended killing of someone else while in the commission of either a legal action that may cause death or an offense that’s not in itself a dangerous felony.
The primary feature of involuntary manslaughter offense is it doesn’t require one to have the intention to kill somebody else, unlike murder under PC 187, which requires one to have malice aforethought. And, involuntary manslaughter statute doesn’t include acts that suit the above meaning but involve an auto. A situation like that would be prosecuted under vehicular manslaughter statutes.
The most known case of involuntary manslaughter in California is that of the late pop singer Michael Jackson and his doctor, Dr. Conrad Murray. Dr. Murray was sentenced for involuntary manslaughter after he prescribed Michael a surgical sedative that ultimately killed him.
Other instances that would result in one being charged with involuntary manslaughter include:
- During an argument with his father, a man pulls out a gun and brandishes it at his father to scare him, thus breaking PC 417 law on brandishing weapons. The firearm fires by accident, killing the father.
- A man shoplifts a watch at a supermarket, therefore, violating PC 484 petty theft law. As he tries to flee with the watch using his bicycle, he knocks down a pedestrian, and the walker ends up dying due to the injuries they sustained.
Elements of Involuntary Manslaughter
The lawful meaning of an involuntary manslaughter offense carries various elements of the crime. Aspects of the crimes refer to facts that prosecutors need to prove for a defendant to be convicted under PC 192b. The elements that the prosecutor needs to establish in involuntary manslaughter include:
- You committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or a crime that isn’t in itself a felony, or you did a legal act in an illegal manner
- You did commit the offense or action with criminal carelessness or negligence
- Your acts led to the death of another person
Let us expound on each of the elements to comprehend their meaning in practice better.
- A Crime or Legal Action in an Illegal Manner
You are considered to have committed involuntary manslaughter only after doing something wrong. Accidents that are a pure freak won’t count. The wrongful action can include any of the following:
- An infraction. This refers to an offense of a lower level whose punishment includes a fine only. For instance, a traffic offense or an offense under PC 415
- A misdemeanor
- A felony that’s not considered in itself dangerous. Should you kill a person in the commission of a felony that’s in itself dangerous, you won’t face involuntary manslaughter charges. Instead, the prosecuting attorney will charge you with murder as per the felony-murder rule of California
- An action that’s not an offense, but you do it in an illegal manner
- Criminal Negligence
Whether you’re prosecuted under the involuntary manslaughter law based on a fundamental offense or underlying legal activity notwithstanding, the prosecuting attorney has to prove that you were criminally negligent. Being criminally negligent involves a lot more than a mere ordinary carelessness or inattention. It happens only when:
- You recklessly act in that you create an elevated risk of substantial bodily injury or death
- A reasonable individual would have been aware that behaving in the manner in which you did would create that risk
Someone is considered to be criminally negligent when he/she acts so differently from how an ordinarily careful individual would act in a similar case. His/her actions amount to disregard for people’s lives or indifference to the repercussions of the acts.
For instance, Anne leaves her five-year child at home alone and goes out with friends. While having fun, there’s a fire breakout at her house, which kills her child. Anne isn’t guilty of PC 192b because her acts weren’t criminally negligent. Chances of having a fire break out in her house in her absence weren’t high, and she couldn’t reasonably have predicted that injury or death would be the result of her actions.
- Caused the Demise of Another Person
Your actions are deemed to have led to the demise of someone else if that death was a natural, direct, and probable repercussion of your acts, and the demise wouldn’t have occurred were it not for your actions. This implies that a sensible individual would’ve had to notice that the passing away was possible. Keep in mind that PC 152, concealing an accidental death, is also an offense under California law.
Involuntary Manslaughter on the Grounds of Legal Duty
Committing an involuntary manslaughter offense based on the failure to carry out a lawful responsibility is a different type of involuntary manslaughter. However, this carries quite a different legal meaning. The elements a prosecutor should prove for PC 192b based on one’s failure to do a lawful duty include:
- You had a lawful obligation to an alleged victim
- You didn’t perform that duty as required
- Your failure to carry out that responsibility was criminally careless
- Your failing to carry out the duty resulted in the passing away of the victim
In a case of involuntary manslaughter, whether one has a legal obligation towards another party is a matter that’s determined by the judge, not the jury. Examples of relations that influence a lawful duty are:
- Parent-child relationships
- A bond between two individuals, one of who had the responsibility of taking care of the other
- A relationship between a paid caregiver and the person of which he/she is taking care
For instance, Dianne and Jimmy meet in a bar. Dianne then decides to accompany Jimmy to his house. Jimmy is aware Dianne is drunk. She tells him she wants to sniff cocaine in one of his rooms. After she does that, Dianne collapses. Jimmy drags her outside of his house and leaves her outside his gate before returning to sleep. Dianne is found dead the following morning.
By allowing Dianne to accompany him to his house when drunk and permitting her to use one of his rooms to sniff cocaine, Jimmy created a lawful duty to Dianne. Since he didn’t seek medical assistance for her when she collapsed, he is likely to be convicted of PC 192b.
Penalties for PC 192b Involuntary Manslaughter
PC 192b is always charged as a felony. The possible punishments include:
- Felony probation
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
- Four, three, or two years of a jail sentence
Usually, involuntary manslaughter charges may trigger a civil suit by the members of the deceased victim’s family too. When civil cases are successful, PC 192b defendants may face substantial civil judgments.
Additionally, should you unintentionally kill another party using a gun or any other deadly or dangerous weapon and then get a conviction underPC192b, then your conviction qualifies to be a strike offense as per the ‘Three Strikes’ Law.
Under the realignment legislation of California, one can now serve his/her involuntary manslaughter sentence in jail instead of prison. This realignment legislation was enacted in the year 2011 under Assembly Bill 109. It changed the sentencing structure of more than 500 crimes in California State by permitting the crimes to be penalized by a jail sentence instead of prison time.
Before the realignment happened, the punishment for involuntary manslaughter was prison time for four, three, or two years. After the realignment, PC 192b is punished by imprisonment in jail for four, three, or two years following PC 1170h. Crimes punished under PC 1170h, for instance, involuntary manslaughter, have jail time instead of prison time, even if one’s offense is still convicted as a felony.
Additionally, PC 1170h also requires that the judge may permit a defendant to serve out his/her part of their involuntary manslaughter sentence in jail. It then requires that the defendant serve his/her remaining sentence under compulsory supervision by a probation officer.
The realignment legislation significantly altered the criminal justice system in California. For more details on this and how realignment works, consult your criminal defense lawyer so you can know the circumstances surrounding your situation.
Apart from substantial fines and jail time, you can also lose other privileges in case you’re found guilty of PC 192b involuntary manslaughter. As we said earlier, If you’re found guilty of any felony in California, involuntary manslaughter included, you’ll lose your right to weapon ownership. Additionally, under PC 12021, if you’re found guilty of any felony in California state or any other state, and you possess or purchase a gun, you may face charges of another felony. By this, it means that in case you are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and later it’s found that you are in control of a gun, you can be prosecuted under California PC 12021.
Also, if you’re found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, you could lose any state license you presently have. Licensing agencies in California are capable of confiscating your license if you’re found to be guilty of an offense.
Legal Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter
When one passes away under any given suspicious circumstances, police officers and prosecuting attorneys have to be involved. In a situation like this, people would want to hear that someone was responsible. And, usually, consequently, the police speed investigations or jump into conclusions leaving innocent parties to fight against the false charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Luckily, there are several legal defenses against involuntary manslaughter statute that an expert criminal defense lawyer can argue for you to have your charges reduced or dismissed. They include:
- You were Acting in Your Self-defense or the Defense of Another Person
This legal defense applies if all these are correct:
- You had a reason to believe you or another person was in immediate danger of suffering substantial physical injury or the risk of being raped, killed, robbed, or maimed
- You had a reason to believe that your immediate application of fatal force was obligatory to defend yourself or another party against the danger
- You applied not much force than you needed to defend yourself against the danger
If you’re capable of proving all the facts mentioned above, then you will not be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter under PC 192b.
- The Homicide was Accidental
All cases to do with involuntary manslaughter aren’t intentional to a given extent since they generally have to do with situations where a defendant didn’t intend to kill the supposed victim. Therefore, if you did not take part in any wrongful act, that is, you weren’t acting with criminal negligence; the accident defense could apply to PC 192b charges.
When using this defense, you have to be capable of showing that you:
- Didn’t have any criminal intention to cause harm
- Your actions weren’t criminally negligent when the unintentional killing happened
- Were involved in legal activity when the accident occurred
- Inadequate Proof
Sometimes, in involuntary manslaughter cases that appear to be open and shut, law enforcement makes a haste decision concerning the demise. They take their cases to the prosecuting attorney, who simply agrees with the police’s report. This is only a single one of the reasons why hiring a skilled criminal defense attorney to defend you against the charges of involuntary manslaughter is crucial.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys will conduct their parallel investigations. They will invest their resources and time in interviewing different witnesses, consulting forensic scientists, and reexamine proof to reveal what, in reality, happened.
- Wrongful Arrest/False Accusations
Similarly, people usually accuse others falsely of committing an involuntary manslaughter offense. It could happen because friends or family members of the deceased want to reduce his or her contribution in his or her demise by blaming someone else for it. Or, it could be that someone wants to harm or revenge against the accused.
In any case, this is one of the situations where an expert criminal defense attorney experienced in manslaughter cases comes in. A lawyer who is conversant with the law and understands how critical technical information is could be valuable in defending against charges of involuntary manslaughter.
- The Insanity Defense
You can enter a not guilty plea on the grounds of insanity. To successfully argue this defense under the California law, you have to meet the M'Naghten test of insanity. Specifically, you, with the help of your attorney, need to prove that due to a mental disorder, you either weren’t aware of the wrongfulness of your act or couldn’t comprehend the quality and nature of your actions. That is, you didn’t understand or weren’t capable of differentiating right from wrong.
- Mistaken Identity
You can use the mistaken identity defense if you believe that the prosecutor has charged the wrong individual with the offense. If you are going to use this defense, you usually need to assert an alibi with supporting proof to show that you were somewhere else when the involuntary manslaughter offense took place.
Related Offenses to PC 192 Involuntary Manslaughter
Various defenses are closely related to involuntary manslaughter because they share particular elements. As a result, instead of being prosecuted under PC 192b, you can be charged with any of these crimes. This mostly happens if the prosecutor cannot prove all the elements of involuntary manslaughter, or if there are additional elements evident in the case. In other instances, involuntary manslaughter can be charged alongside these crimes, in which case you will be facing two or more charges. Offenses related to involuntary manslaughter include:
- Murder (PC 187)
There’s one primary factor that differentiates murder, prosecuted under PC 187, from manslaughter. For it to qualify as murder, there has to be malice aforethought involved (generally, the aim to kill). But, in case you kill a person accidentally when in the commission of a felony, you’ll face murder charges as per the felony murder rule, rather than manslaughter. A possible sentence for murder offense ranges between fifteen years in prison to life imprisonment.
Alternatively, in case the murder offense qualifies to be an exceptional circumstances’ killing, if you murdered a law enforcement officer or witness, for example, or killed a person for monetary gain. You can even be subjected to the death penalty.
- Voluntary Manslaughter (PC 192a)
Voluntary manslaughter under PC 192a is defined as the killing that occurs after a heat of passion or sudden quarrel. Put otherwise, as the term suggests, voluntary manslaughter offense is the killing that’s voluntary or intentional but is penalized less harshly compared to murder since it’s the consequences of the accused’s strong emotions.
PC 192a results in a stricter punishment compared to involuntary manslaughter. Its penalties include three, six, or eleven years in state prison and one strike on your criminal record as per the Three Strikes’ law.
- Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192c)
Vehicular manslaughter charged under PC 192c is almost similar to involuntary manslaughter, with the only distinction being that vehicular manslaughter occurs only when the accused is operating an automobile.
Should you commit vehicular homicide with gross carelessness offense (the same criminal negligence as that required in involuntary manslaughter), your offense will be referred to as gross vehicular manslaughter. Gross vehicular manslaughter can be prosecuted either as a felony or a misdemeanor based on the prosecution’s discretion.
The possible sentence for a felony conviction is higher compared to that of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, you will face two, four, or six years in prison. However, if you are convicted of vehicular homicide with ordinary negligence only, then it’s a misdemeanor. Its punishment will include a maximum of one year in jail.
- Vehicular Manslaughter While Driving Under the Influence (PC 191.5)
In case you commit a vehicular manslaughter offense when drunk or drugged driving, you’ll be prosecuted under PC 191.5a law, vehicular homicide while intoxicated or PC 191.5b law, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
This crime has stricter consequences compared to either ordinary vehicular manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter. Gross vehicular homicide while DUI offense is charged as a felony. Its possible sentence is four, six, or ten years in prison. On the other hand, ordinary vehicular manslaughter while DUI offense is a wobbler. Its maximum felony prison time is four years.
- DUI Murder/Watson Murder (PC 187)
DUI murder is a kind of second-degree murder also prosecuted under PC 187. It is charged when a person with a past conviction of DUI kills another while driving while intoxicated. The term Watson originates from a 1981 Supreme Court case titled People vs. Watson. In this case, the court ruled that a driver driving under the influence who causes a deadly crash can be sentenced for murder (PC 187) in case the motorist acted with implied malice.
DUI murder is always a felony whose penalties include fifteen years to life imprisonment, a strike on the accused’s criminal record as per the Three Strikes’ law, and a maximum fine of $10,000. The potential sentence will increase if there’re also surviving victims that suffered an injury.
Find an Experienced Involuntary Manslaughter Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with an involuntary manslaughter offense in Orange County or the neighboring areas, we at Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm are ready to help you by offering top-tier legal representation and advice. We boast deep proficiency in beating these kinds of charges. We have assisted many people facing involuntary manslaughter charges to get the best possible outcome for their cases, and we may do that for you too. For a free consultation, or to know more details about your case, call our Orange County criminal lawyer at 714-740-7848.