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What Is Involuntary Manslaughter and What Happens If You Are Accused?

— January 20, 2023

Whether or not it was intentional, manslaughter is still a serious crime. Unless it was in self-defense, there is a good chance that you will serve time for it.

Not every crime has intent behind it. Sometimes, during a series of unfortunate incidents, you may be charged with a crime that puts your freedom in jeopardy. This is often referred to as involuntary manslaughter. 

Accident or not, the action still led to someone losing their life. As a result, the accused may expect penalties. If you are accused of involuntary manslaughter, this is what you will need to know about it.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is an act of homicide, where one takes someone else’s life unlawfully, without having the intention of causing bodily harm or killing the person. This can be caused by gross negligence or recklessness. 

Examples of involuntary manslaughter include death through a car accident, accidental discharge of firearms, enforcing workers to perform in unsafe conditions, selling substandard drugs, or medical personnel neglecting a patient in a vulnerable condition.

For someone to be charged with involuntary manslaughter, they do not necessarily need to be near the person during their time of death. They just need to be the cause of it, as indirect as it may be.

Types of Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter may come in different types. Depending on the context of the crime, you may be charged with: 

  1. Unlawful Act Manslaughter

With unlawful act manslaughter, the defendant had committed a potentially smaller crime, but which led to the accidental death of a person. For example, a thief may have tried to steal the belongings of a person, without the intention of causing them bodily harm. However, the mugging went wrong, causing the attacked person to lose their life. 

These dangerous acts could contribute to the death of another person. When trying to prove involuntary manslaughter, the judge and jury will look at the following factors:

  • Step 1: Dangerousness of the Act

First, the court will check to see whether or not the act was dangerous. At this stage, they do not look at whether or not the defendant recognized the danger, but at the potential of things going wrong. 

The act itself does not necessarily need to be directed toward a person. For instance, someone committing arson may not have known that a person was in the building. The act may lead to the person’s death, charging the arsonist with involuntary manslaughter.

  • Step 2: Causation

The judge will then look at the causation of the manslaughter. Was the dangerous act the reason why the victim died? If so, then they may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

  • Step 3: Proof of Unlawful Act

The last step is to look for proof of the unlawful act. The judge and jury will look for intent of committing an unlawful act and knowledge of their wrongdoings. They need to actively prove that the victim tried to commit the act that involuntarily led to a person’s death.

They will establish whether or not the person committing the crime was sober and in a well-enough state to recognize the danger. They work on the premise that every sober person should recognize the dangerousness of an unlawful act.

  1. Gross Negligence Manslaughter 

When someone is charged with the care of a person but is severely negligent in their job, this may lead to the death of the person. In this case, the caretaker may be accused of involuntary manslaughter by gross negligence. When they are prosecuted, the judge and the jury will look at the elements below:

  • Whether or not the defendant owed a duty of care to the victim
  • Potential breaches within the duty of care.
  • Whether or not the breach was what caused the victim’s death in the first place
  • The grossness of the negligence, assessing the disregard for the life and safety of others

If all of these factors are established as being true, then the defendant may be charged with involuntary manslaughter. If the person committing the breach of duty is a company and not necessarily an individual, then they may be charged with corporate manslaughter.

How Much Time Can You Get for Involuntary Manslaughter?

The time that you need to serve for involuntary manslaughter can depend on the underlying misdemeanor or the severity of the negligence. Some people may get as little as one year. Others may get as much as 18 years.

Man in prison; image by Damir Spanic, via
Man in prison; image by Damir Spanic, via

The average sentence is somewhere around 6 years of imprisonment. While the average sentence is 12 years, it is usually reduced to 6 if the person is on their best behavior. If paired with community service, a defendant can appeal for parole and shorten their sentence.

For example, if the manslaughter was caused by gross negligence, you will serve up to 12 years in prison. That said, if the manslaughter was a result of dangerous or unlawful acts, you can get up to 18 years of imprisonment.

You must get a good criminal lawyer to represent you if you are accused. They can find the necessary evidence and plead in your favor so that you may get a better deal. 

Can You Defend Against Involuntary Manslaughter Accusations?

Depending on the case, you may plead your case so that you are not found guilty. For example, if the victim attacked you and you retaliated so that you can protect yourself, you have very strong grounds for self-defense. In happy cases where you did not commit the crime, a good attorney should be able to prove your innocence.

If you were drunk during the offense or you used excessive force during your self-defense, you may not be completely exonerated from the crime. That said, they may still lower the severity of the charges. Once more, make sure to get a good criminal defense lawyer. They will know how to plead your case the best.

The Bottom Line

Whether or not it was intentional, manslaughter is still a serious crime. Unless it was in self-defense, there is a good chance that you will serve time for it. It is recommended you hire a good criminal defense attorney so that you can either prove your innocence or get a lower sentence for your crime.

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