Involuntary Manslaughter: Penalties and Sentencing

Crimes involving involuntary manslaughter come with penalties that are significantly lighter than penalties for other killings. However, they don't let the convicted off completely scot-free either. Penalties for involuntary manslaughter vary from state to state. However, it is treated as a felony on both federal and state levels.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the base penalty for involuntary manslaughter typically carries a sentence of at least 12 months of incarceration, along with probation and fines. The maximum penalty under federal law for involuntary manslaughter is eight years in prison, along with fines.

State Penalties

Most states consider involuntary manslaughter to be a Class C or Class D felony. The resulting sentences typically include fines, five to 10 years in prison and/or required counseling. However, penalties can vary greatly from state to state. In the state of California, for example, involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of up to four years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000. In the state of Florida, on the other hand, involuntary manslaughter penalties are even heftier, potentially carrying a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Generally, at the state level, laws will propose a range of sentences, and a judge will have discretion as to which sentence to hand down. Courts will generally take into consideration aggravating and mitigating factors in coming to their final sentence.

Aggravating and Mitigating Factors

Each involuntary manslaughter case will differ from the next one, with some factors having an effect on the severity of the crime. The judge will take these into consideration when determining sentencing after a conviction.

Aggravating factors for involuntary manslaughter vary based on the statute in each state. In California, reckless conduct can increase the severity of the offense and increase penalties. Other aggravating factors might include the killing of a child or a member of law enforcement or a criminal history of reckless behavior.

Mitigating factors in an involuntary manslaughter case can include having a lack of criminal history, accepting responsibility or genuine remorse for the crime, or even being mentally or physically ill.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Depending upon the jurisdiction and the circumstances, killing a person with a vehicle may be considered involuntary manslaughter, specifically vehicular manslaughter. For instance, in California, if an individual is drunk behind the wheel of a car and strikes a pedestrian or causes an accident that results in the death of another person, then the impaired driver is guilty of vehicular manslaughter. A person may also be guilty of vehicular manslaughter while committing a felony with the vehicle or while driving recklessly.

Vehicular manslaughter penalties vary greatly. In California, if there are no aggravating factors, a person convicted of vehicular manslaughter may typically be imprisoned for four years or less. If an individual kills a person when voluntarily causing an accident for financial gain, then the prison time and other penalties may increase.

One of the most significant aggravating factors is intoxication. For instance, for an individual who has previously been convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the California Penal Code imposes a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, and some jurisdictions additionally impose restrictions on parole.

In Ohio, those found guilty of vehicular manslaughter can face imprisonment for up to 90 days and a suspension of their drivers' license for up to three years. However, if the driver did not have a valid license or had any prior convictions for similar offenses, they could instead face six months in jail. In many other states, vehicular manslaughter penalties can depend on the specifics of the case.

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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