How Is "Involuntary Manslaughter" Legally Defined in California?
California Penal Code Section 192b defines "involuntary manslaughter" as the unintentional killing of another person, either due to an act of negligence or "lack of due caution," or in the process of committing a crime other than an "inherently dangerous felony."
Involuntary manslaughter is distinguished from murder (PC 187) in that murder is intentional and illegal killing that involves "malice aforethought." It is distinct from vehicular manslaughter in that it does not take place while one is driving a motor vehicle.
Proving Involuntary Manslaughter
In order to gain a conviction on the charge of involuntary manslaughter in California, the prosecutor must prove all of the following elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt:
- The defendant's conduct was the cause of the death of another person.
- The defendant's actions that caused the death took place during his/her commission of a misdemeanor or infraction or of a felony not considered "inherently dangerous" in itself. OR, the actions took place while undertaking a legal action but in an "unlawful manner.
- The defendant was guilty of "criminal negligence" when he/she was engaged in the actions that caused the victim's death.
In order for involuntary manslaughter charges to stick, the defendant must have done something illegal or wrong. It cannot be simply a matter of an accidental death where the defendant was present. But the illegal activity need not have been anything particularly egregious. It could be a a minor traffic violation or any other mere infraction or a low-level misdemeanor crime. It could also be a more serious misdemeanor or felony. But if it was a felony that is considered inherently dangerous, you would be charged with murder instead of involuntary manslaughter.
Regardless of what activity you were undertaking when you involuntarily caused the death of another person, it must be shown that criminal negligence was exercised. This involves much more than "ordinary" negligence. It is more than a mistake or a temporary lack of attention. It must be an act that was reckless and likely to cause great bodily harm to another, and you must be you knew (or should have known) that the act would create such a risk.
It must also be shown that the death in question was truly caused by the defendant's actions. Specifically, it must be proved that that death was the "direct, natural, and probable" result of his/her actions. It must also be proved that the death would not have happened anyway absent the defendant's actions.
The Legal Basis of Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
The underlying legal basis for any and all involuntary manslaughter charges is a failure to exercise due caution for the safety of others around you.
However, there is another specific kind of involuntary manslaughter that is based on the failure to perform a "legal duty" toward another. But even then, the non-performance of that duty must amount to criminal negligence that causes the death of the other person.
It can be a tricky legal issue to establish such "legal duties toward another," however. It might, for example, be a duty arising from the relationship between parent and child, between babysitter and child, or between a live-in nurse and his/her elderly patient. Defining the existence and nature of such relationships and legal duties is a part of the work of your defense attorney in certain involuntary manslaughter case-types.
Possible Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter (PC 192b)
California Penal Code Section 192b establishes that the crime of involuntary manslaughter will always be charged as a felony. Possible penalties upon a conviction for PC 192b include:
- From 2 to 4 years in state prison.
- Formal (felony level) probation.
- A maximum fine of $10,000.
Should the accidental death involved in involuntary manslaughter have occurred due to the defendant's use or possession of a firearm or other "deadly weapon," then PC 192b becomes a strike on your criminal record under our state's Three Strikes Law.
Also note that conviction on a criminal charge for involuntary manslaughter does not prevent you from being subject to a civil tort action as well. Thus, full restitution for all losses inflicted on the family of the victim and other civil penalties may apply as well if both criminal charges and a civil suit succeed.
Formal (felony) probation is much more restrictive than informal (misdemeanor) probation in California. If let out on probation after an involuntary manslaughter conviction, you must register with the Adult Probation Department without delay (normally, within 48 hours of your release.)
You will then have to check in periodically with the probation department for up to 5 years. If you don't violate probation terms and always check in on time, you might be allowed to check in less often and/or by phone instead of in-person. And you might even be able to get your probation period shortened. But if you violate your probation terms, you could be taken off probation and sent to prison to complete the full prison term you would otherwise have been sentenced to.
Common Defense Strategies Against an Involuntary Manslaughter Charge
At Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys, we have been successfully defending Long Beach and Southern California residents against involuntary manslaughter charges for years. We understand how the process works and how local court procedures can affect your case. We also understand how often it happens that an innocent person is accused of this crime simply because of grief/frustration that a death has occurred and due to the desire to hold "someone" accountable.
Police, prosecutors, and victims' families may assume guilt where none exists. They may press charges simply because you were present at the time of the other person's death, because they are annoyed at you for some other reason, or because they simply want a conviction to "avenge" the lost loved one's death.
We have a lot of experience in detecting the motivations of the other side, and we understand how to build a strong defense against all manner of involuntary manslaughter allegations. Here are some of the our most frequently used defenses:
- Self Defense: This is a very common defense against involuntary manslaughter (PC 192b). But in order for a self-defense argument to work, the following must be true: the defendant was or reasonably believed himself to be in immediate danger of death, serious bodily harm, rape, or robbery; the defendant's use of force was necessary to prevent these crimes from being perpetrated on him, or he at least reasonably believed use of force to be necessary; and the degree of physical force used was only so much as necessary to avert the danger at hand.
- Defense of Others: This defense is exactly like that of self-defense and has all the same "rules," but it applies when another person was in imminent danger of suffering death or serious bodily injury.
- Accidental Death: In a broad sense, involuntary manslaughter itself is an accident, in that no intent existed to kill another person (otherwise, it would be murder.) But legally speaking, a death is an "accident" in the narrower sense only if there was a lack of criminal negligence on the person whose actions caused the death. If lack of such negligence can be proved, then the accident defense is viable.
- Lack of Sufficient Evidence: It often happens that police and prosecutors jump to wrong conclusions after an accidental death and file an inappropriate involuntary manslaughter charge. It may be that little evidence exists against you, but that police are hoping to "take a shot at it" anyway or that they really don't realize how weak their case actually is.
- False Accusations: It may happen that the victim's family or friends don't want to admit the role the victim played in his/her own death, by reckless of negligent behavior. They may wish to blame it all on someone else. Or, someone may even have an ax to grind against you or the true culprit may have framed you. We will know how to do our own investigative work to get to the bottom of it and will work to challenge the evidence and arguments of the prosecution.
Other Related Offenses
Some closely related, but distinct, charges that often arise in the course of an involuntary manslaughter defense case, are as follows:
- Murder (PC 187): There is but a single element of the crime that sets involuntary manslaughter apart from murder: the issue of intent. Murder involves "malice aforethought," or in essence, the intention to kill on the part of the perpetrator. If the issue of intent is questioned, or if the defendant is alleged to have been in the midst of committing an inherently dangerous felony when the death occurred, murder can be charged instead of involuntary manslaughter. And murder is punishable in California by 15 years to life in state prison.
- Voluntary Manslaughter (PC 192a): When an intentional killing occurs on the spur of the moment, perhaps in the midst of an impassioned argument, in California, it is neither murder nor involuntary manslaughter: it is "voluntary manslaughter." When emotions more than cold calculation ahead of time led to the intentional killing, then it is voluntary manslaughter. This crime is punishable by 3 to 11 years in state prison and puts a strike on your permanent criminal record.
- Vehicular Manslaughter (PC 192c): This crime is virtually the same as involuntary manslaughter, but with one difference: someone commits it while he/she is operating a motor vehicle. If gross negligence instead of ordinary negligence was involved, then it will be "gross vehicular manslaughter" and punished more severely. This can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the case. PC 192c as a felony can get you 2 to 6 years in state prison, while PC 192c as a misdemeanor can get you up to 12 months in county jail. Also note that vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated (PC 191.5) is also a distinct crime in California, and it will enhance the penalty above the level of "regular" vehicular manslaughter.
Contact Us Today For Immediate Help
If you are facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter in Long Beach or anywhere in Southern California, we at Long Beach Criminal Defense Attorneys stand ready to rush to your assistance with top-tier legal advice and representation.
We have deep expertise in winning these types of cases. We have helped many others arrested on an involuntary manslaughter charge to obtain the best possible outcome to their case, and we can do the same for you.
To learn more or for a free, no-obligation consultation on the details of your case, contact us anytime 24/7/365 by calling (562) 308-7807. Or, feel free to meet with us in-person at our local office.