Causing the death of another person is always severe. However, not all cases of killing are classified as murder.
Some fatal crimes are considered involuntary manslaughter, which is less than murder, but can be punished by jail time and fines. But what is involuntary manslaughter, anyway?
This article defines what involuntary manslaughter is and how it differs from murder. This piece also tackles other types of manslaughter, its fines, and penalties.
Furthermore, this article provides a defense against this criminal charge which can be helpful in this kind of case.
If you need a website that provides access to crucial documents so you can build a case against a manslaughter charge, visit LookUpInmate.org. Our site gives you access to over 7,000 correctional facilities in the United States (U.S.).
What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?
Involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional or unplanned killing of another person due to recklessness, criminal negligence, or from different misdemeanors.
An example of recklessness resulting in involuntary manslaughter is impaired driving due to intoxication or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In contrast, voluntary manslaughter involves intention and deliberation. Because of this, involuntary manslaughter is the lowest form of homicide in U.S. law.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
Causing the death of another individual is a serious matter, whether intentional or not. Life is one of the rights protected by the Constitution, and depriving one’s right to live without due process is a grave crime.
However, intention is a crucial factor that separates murder from manslaughter. Though both are under homicide, the penalties and sentences differ between these violent crimes because of the presence or lack of intent.
However, because punishments should be proportionate to the crime committed, it’s vital to distinguish the difference in gravity between these two offenses. The following topics tackle the different penalties and sentences given to people convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
U.S. Laws on the Punishment for Involuntary Manslaughter
The punishment for involuntary manslaughter cases differs in various states. However, in most cases, this type of homicide is usually considered a felony in both federal and state jurisdictions.
Typically, charges of involuntary manslaughter can lead to at least one-year imprisonment, with fines or probation under unique circumstances.
In some states, there are other crimes related to involuntary manslaughter. For example, in California, the related crimes include the following:
- Voluntary manslaughter: California defines this in the state’s Penal Code section 192 A
- Vehicular manslaughter: California defines this in the state’s Penal Code section 192 C
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated: California provides its definition in the state’s Penal Code section 191.5
- Murder: California defines this crime in the state’s Penal Code section 187
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: Federal Level
The base or minimum sentence for a federal involuntary manslaughter conviction is a prison sentence of 10 to 16 months. However, the sentence can increase if the crime happens because of reckless behavior.
If involuntary manslaughter was committed with a motor vehicle, the sentence might be even harsher. However, the judge will ultimately decide on the punishment of the offender.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: State Level
State rules vary widely in terms of penalties and sentencing for cases of involuntary manslaughter. However, states sometimes mirror the decisions made by federal courts when drafting sentencing guidelines.
Judges in state courts have discretion in determining the appropriate sentence to impose for this kind of offense.
Judges base their decision on the aggravating and mitigating factors present in the case. Aggravating factors are things that increase a crime’s severity. An example of an aggravating factor is a history of reckless behavior.
Mitigating factors lessen the severity of a sentence. Examples of mitigating factors include the willful acceptance of guilt for the crime and having no criminal record.
Aside from criminal consequences, a person charged with involuntary manslaughter can also be civilly liable for the unintentional death of another person.
In California, if you unintentionally caused the death of another individual, the victim’s family member can sue you by filing a civil case.
The victim’s family member can file a wrongful death case, which is a civil cause of action or lawsuit brought by family members against people who knowingly or negligently caused the death of another individual.
A wrongful death case is a noncriminal lawsuit, meaning it can be filed alongside a criminal charge. Moreover, the defendant can still be found liable for wrongful death even if they are acquitted of a criminal charge because of the low burden of proof.
Note that penalties for wrongful death can also be imposed in addition to a criminal sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
Getting convicted of crimes like involuntary manslaughter has other consequences besides the penalties issued and imposed by the courts.
In states like California, you can lose the following privilege and rights after a conviction:
- The right to own a weapon
- The privilege to have any state license
In addition to losing the right to own a firearm, a person with a felony record can be criminally charged if they’re caught in possession of a gun.
In Florida, the list of privileges and rights lost after a felony conviction also includes the following:
- The right to vote
- The opportunity to hold public office
- The opportunity to serve on a jury
Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
The following are cases that show the difference in penalties and sentencing between federal and state cases:
- Johannes Mehserle, a former California police officer, mistakenly drew his revolver instead of his taser and accidentally shot and killed an unarmed man.
The victim was Oscar Grant, who Mehserle thought was making a “digging motion” in his right pocket to pull out a weapon. The California police officer drew his revolver instead of his taser and killed Grant.
Mehserle was charged with involuntary manslaughter in a state court and received a two-year prison sentence according to the California sentencing guidelines.
- Tommy Morgan was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after killing Harry Kiyadito while driving under the influence or DUI. The incident happened on federal land, so jurisdiction falls under the federal courts.
Morgan was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to one year with an additional three years of supervised release.
Murder and Manslaughter: Learning More About the Differences
Murder and manslaughter may both mean the killing of another person. Still, these two criminal acts have a huge difference in severity.
Murder is the intentional killing of another person. It is a planned, premeditated act of unlawful killing.
Though in some states, murder can also be charged on a person who intentionally does a dangerous act that threatens other lives and results in the death of another individual.
On the other hand, manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another person. A classic example of manslaughter is a crime committed in the “heat of passion,” where a person unintentionally ends the life of another individual because of intense provocation.
Further dissecting manslaughter, you’ll notice two types: involuntary manslaughter, which was already tackled above, and voluntary manslaughter, which is a more severe crime.
This type of manslaughter happens when a person willfully kills someone without premeditation. In most cases, the killing of a person is the result of intense provocation.
For example, a person catches his spouse and her lover in an affair. The tension of that moment can result in a heat of passion crime, where the husband kills his spouse’s lover.
The person may be guilty of killing the lover intentionally, but it was due to intense provocation. In this kind of situation, an unlawful killing of a person doesn’t result in murder but in voluntary manslaughter.
Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter
The following are examples of scenarios that have been categorized as voluntary manslaughter. Note that these cases are taken from California jurisprudence.
- People who committed a crime of passion that resulted in the death of a person
- Someone who killed another person in self-defense by using excessive force to protect themselves
- Parents who killed someone they believed threatened their child, even without immediate threat
- A person losing their temper and self-control because of taunting and provocation, resulting in the killing of a person
- A person who intentionally caused a fatal injury during an altercation
- A person who killed a robber or burglar, even though the culprits can be stopped without deadly force
- A person assisting someone to commit suicide, regardless of consent, can be charged with voluntary manslaughter
- A person who is protecting their property and using excessive force on potential trespassers resulting in the death of another person
- A person using excessive force to discipline that resulted in the death of another individual
Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter
To better understand what constitutes involuntary manslaughter, here are examples of situations that the state of California views as this type of offense.
- A person texting and driving a motor vehicle leading to an accident and the death of another person.
- A person speeding or committing another traffic offense resulting in a victim’s death
- A person driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol resulting in the accidental death of another
- A person forcing others to work outdoors under extreme weather resulting in their death
- A healthcare worker who ignored a vulnerable patient while on duty
- A person practicing medicine without a license that resulted in the death of a person
- A person improperly prescribing medication resulting in the death of a patient
Some may get confused between vehicular homicides and vehicular manslaughter. Though they involve the unintentional killing of another person with a motor vehicle, there’s a subtle difference.
In Ohio, the courts define vehicular homicide as an unintentional killing of another human being via a motor vehicle because of negligence or lack of care.
However, vehicular manslaughter happens when the person driving a vehicle is committing a violation, resulting in the killing of another person.
In both cases, the presence of negligence is what courts look at to determine whether the criminal case is a homicide or manslaughter. Note that the difference may be more subtle in some states compared to Ohio.
Murder in the First Degree
First-degree murder is the most severe type of homicide in most states. This type of murder involves the intentional and premeditated killing of another person.
Factors distinguishing first-degree murder from other types of homicide include malice, premeditation, and intent. If these three requirements are present in a murder case, it’s likely to result in a felony offense conviction.
Murder in the Second Degree
Second-degree murder happens when someone intentionally kills another individual without the presence of premeditation.
The requirement for this type of homicide is the apparent lack of premeditation and the intent to commit the crime. Involuntary manslaughter is often listed under this category in some states.
Murder in the Third Degree
Third-degree murder is only punishable in three states: Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. This type of murder involves a non-premeditated killing of a person despite the defendant’s intent only to cause bodily harm.
Murder Committed Willfully
When a person willfully kills someone because of intense provocation, such as in the case of a crime of passion, it’s deemed as voluntary manslaughter instead of a full-blown murder charge.
Murder Without Provocation
Negligence and the lack of premeditation is the primary definition of involuntary manslaughter. Many factors can cause the death of an individual. However, if the perpetrator does not intend to kill someone, it’s classified under murder without provocation.
Once you’re charged with manslaughter, you should immediately consult a criminal defense attorney. These criminal law experts can help you build a defense against voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges.
Here are the different defenses you can use against an involuntary manslaughter lawsuit:
- Citing self-defense
- Citing that it is an accident
- Citing insufficiency of evidence from the prosecution
- Citing being falsely accused
Here are the different defenses you can use against a voluntary manslaughter lawsuit:
- Showing proof of innocence
- Citing accidental killing
- Citing insanity
- Citing intoxication
- Citing self-defense
All of these defenses require the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer.
Alec Baldwin Was Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter in Rust Shooting
A sensational example of an involuntary manslaughter case in recent history is the accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by actor Alec Baldwin during the shooting of the movie “Rust.”
The incident happened when Baldwin was mistakenly given a loaded gun by the props crew in the Rust set. The actor fired the weapon into Hutchins’ chest, killing her and injuring writer-director Joel Souza.
Baldwin immediately cited that it was not his fault as he was unaware that the gun given to him was loaded with real ammunition.
However, despite his defense, Santa Fe County district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies charged Baldwin with two counts of involuntary manslaughter because of his apparent negligence in ensuring the props used in the set were safe.
Two Competing Charges
Reports revealed that Balwin and the prop armorer Hannah Gutierrez–Reed face two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The two charges against Baldwin and Reed are involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. The charge also involves the negligent use of a firearm which unfortunately led to the demise of Hutchins.
As of April 2023, the manslaughter charges against Baldwin were dropped due to new evidence that has emerged. Meanwhile, Reed’s charges remain unchanged.
How Much Jail Time Could Alec Baldwin Face for Involuntary Manslaughter?
Under New Mexico law, both cases of involuntary manslaughter filed against Baldwin are considered a fourth-degree felony, with a jail time of up to 18 months and a $5,000 fine.
If you need a handy website to get the necessary documents to build a defense against an involuntary manslaughter case, visit LookUpInmate.org. Our website provides access to criminal records you might need, especially if you have a past history of conviction that may affect the strength of your defense.
1. Involuntary Manslaughter Under the Law
2. Involuntary Manslaughter Overview
3. Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
4. The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
5. crime of passion