Involuntary Manslaughter: An Overview

An Overview of Involuntary Manslaughter, Examples, and Defense

The phrase involuntary manslaughter makes many imagine a person killed in a car accident. But involuntary manslaughter generally refers to any unintentional killing caused by criminal negligence or recklessness. Criminal negligence is often triggered when someone owed a duty to a victim and failed to uphold it, causing them harm or death.

In order for someone to be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, three conditions generally must be met:

  • An act by the defendant caused a death;
  • The act was committed with disregard for human life or was inherently dangerous; and
  • The perpetrator knew or should have known that the act endangered a human life.

Note that acts do not need to be illegal in order to result in involuntary manslaughter. Legal acts, such as administering medical care, can result in involuntary manslaughter charges if they are done recklessly and cause death. Some states also have statutes stating that a death that is caused during the commission of a low-level crime, such as a misdemeanor theft, is also grounds for involuntary manslaughter charges.

Involuntary Manslaughter vs. Murder and Other Charges

The biggest difference between involuntary manslaughter and other charges is intent. For a killing to be a murder, for example, the accused must have had a specific desire to cause the death, or the intent to kill. For involuntary manslaughter, the accused must only have committed an act without consideration of the lives of others.

The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter also comes down to intent. With voluntary manslaughter, the killing is typically intentional. It is generally brought about as a result of a provocation. Intent is only present at the actual time of the killing.

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, involves no intent to kill at any time.

Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter

Since involuntary manslaughter can occur alongside both legal and illegal acts, there are numerous examples of this crime. One of the most common involves driving while under the influence. A person who gets behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol likely has no intent to kill someone. However, most people know, or should know, that driving drunk poses a serious danger to others. Driving under influence anyway can be seen as a disregard for human life. Involuntary manslaughter may also be an appropriate charge in other driving situations, such as illegal street racing or driving recklessly.

Other types of reckless behavior can also result in involuntary manslaughter charges. Consider the reckless discharge of a firearm. Take a person who recklessly shoots a gun into a crowded space, for example. They may not necessarily mean to kill a particular person, but if the firearm causes a death, they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Physical altercations can also often lead to involuntary manslaughter charges. If two people are in a physical fight one person can fall and hit their head or otherwise be fatally injured. While the act of shoving was intentional, the killing itself is not.

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

If a person is charged with involuntary manslaughter, they may want to hire a criminal defense lawyer. A lawyer may be able to present a defense against the charges. Some possible defenses to involuntary manslaughter include:

  • The act was accidental
  • There was not a criminal or gross level of negligence involved
  • The act was committed in self-defense
  • The individual was wrongly arrested

A criminal defense lawyer could also argue whether or not law enforcement followed all necessary procedures in making the arrest or argue that the prosecution lacks enough evidence for a conviction.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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