You are likely to face involuntary manslaughter charges if you unintentionally cause the death of another person in Anaheim. Distinguished from premeditated murder, involuntary manslaughter does not involve an intent to cause grievous bodily harm or to take another's life. Also known as unintentional homicide, involuntary manslaughter involves acts such as fatalities resulting from incidents such as drunk driving or accidental firearm discharge.

Involuntary manslaughter constitutes a serious criminal offense, and convictions carry substantial penalties. However, you can challenge such charges and potentially have them lessened or even dismissed.

At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, we understand involuntary manslaughter cases under California law. Our experienced defense attorneys are dedicated to providing comprehensive support and strategic guidance throughout your legal journey. If you or someone you know is facing charges related to involuntary manslaughter, do not hesitate to seek our assistance.

Definition of Involuntary Manslaughter Under California Law

California Penal Code 192b provides for involuntary manslaughter. Below are elements that define the crime:

California Crime Or Lawful Act In An Unlawful Manner

California law recognizes that not all actions leading to manslaughter are inherently criminal. Sometimes, a lawful act, such as driving a vehicle or handling fireworks, becomes unlawful when executed recklessly or negligently. The law holds individuals accountable for their conduct, even when they are engaged in activities that are typically lawful.

For example, two friends, Alex and Nicole, decided to go camping in the picturesque Yosemite National Park. They had been looking forward to this trip for months. While camping, they decided to start a campfire to keep warm and cook their dinner, a common and lawful activity in a national park.

However, as the evening progressed, Alex and Nicole began to consume excessive amounts of alcohol. They grew rowdy and, in their inebriated state, started tossing empty glass bottles into the campfire. This reckless behavior soon escalated to them throwing entire unopened beer bottles into the flames.

Unbeknownst to them, the intense heat within the fire caused one of the unopened beer bottles to explode, sending shards of glass flying. Tragically, one of these shards struck another camper, Sarah, who was sitting by her campfire nearby. Sarah suffered a severe injury, leading to her untimely death.

In this scenario, camping itself was a lawful activity. However, Alex and Nicole's reckless behavior of throwing glass bottles into the campfire transformed this otherwise lawful act into an unlawful one. Their actions, which showed a complete disregard for the safety of others, resulted in the death of Sarah.

As a result, Alex and Nicole could potentially face involuntary manslaughter charges in California. Despite not setting out to commit a criminal act, their reckless and negligent behavior turned a simple camping trip into a tragic event with legal consequences.

Criminal Negligence

Criminal negligence goes beyond ordinary carelessness. It involves a higher degree of recklessness or disregard for the safety of others. In California, for an act to be deemed criminally negligent, it must display a wanton disregard for human life. In simpler terms, it is the kind of negligence that goes beyond simple accidents or errors in judgment and enters the territory of criminal behavior.

For example, Mark and Emily were neighbors who often socialized together. One sunny afternoon, Mark invited Emily over to his backyard for a barbecue. As a seasoned grill master, Mark was excited to show off his skills. Emily eagerly accepted the invitation, looking forward to a delightful meal.

As the barbecue was underway, Mark began cooking on his well-maintained grill. However, as the day wore on and Mark indulged in multiple beers, he became increasingly careless. He started playing with the grill, attempting reckless cooking maneuvers, and neglecting basic safety precautions.

Unbeknownst to Mark, his reckless actions caused a gas leak in the grill. Emily, unaware of the danger, continued to enjoy the barbecue. Tragically, the gas leak led to an explosion, causing severe injuries to Emily, who was closest to the grill. Despite emergency medical attention, Emily succumbed to her injuries, leaving behind a grieving family.

In this scenario, Mark's actions crossed the line into criminal negligence. While having a barbecue is a common and lawful activity, Mark's reckless behavior, fueled by alcohol and a disregard for safety, transformed this ordinary gathering into a life-threatening situation. His actions, which ultimately resulted in Emily's tragic death, demonstrated a wanton disregard for human life, meeting the criteria for criminal negligence. Under California law, Mark could potentially face involuntary manslaughter charges due to his criminally negligent behavior.

Caused Another Person’s Death

In a charge of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecution should establish that your actions directly led to the death of another person. This causal link between your conduct and the tragic outcome is pivotal. Without it, a case of involuntary manslaughter cannot stand.

For example, Sarah and Michael spend a weekend camping in the picturesque California wilderness. They were both avid outdoor enthusiasts and had embarked on numerous camping trips together. This time, they chose a remote location in the heart of a national forest.

During their camping expedition, Sarah and Michael decided to explore a nearby river. While crossing a rocky area near the riverbank, Sarah lost her footing and slipped into the water. She was unable to swim due to a recent injury, and panic quickly set in. Michael, witnessing his friend's distress, immediately rushed to her aid.

Tragically, in his haste to save Sarah, Michael made a grave error. He failed to notice the strong undercurrent in the river, which had claimed lives in the past. As he reached out to grab Sarah's hand, the powerful current swept away both of them. Despite their desperate struggles, they were unable to reach safety.

Rescue teams were alerted, and they launched a frantic search. Several hours later, Sarah's lifeless body was recovered downstream. Michael miraculously managed to cling to a rock until help arrived, and he survived the ordeal.

Here, the element of causing another person's death becomes evident. Michael's actions, while well-intentioned, directly led to Sarah's tragic demise. His decision to attempt a rescue without thoroughly assessing the risks, combined with the treacherous river conditions, resulted in Sarah's untimely death. Under California law, Michael could potentially face involuntary manslaughter charges due to his actions leading to Sarah's death.

The Difference Between Voluntary And Involuntary Manslaughter

California Penal Code 192(a) PC addresses voluntary manslaughter, which is a distinct and separate crime from involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when an individual intentionally kills another person but does so in the heat of the moment, provoked by factors such as a sudden quarrel or the belief that self-defense is necessary.

On the other hand, California Penal Code 192(b) PC pertains to involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter involves causing the death of another person without intending to kill them. It typically results from reckless or criminally negligent conduct.

The key factors that distinguish voluntary from involuntary manslaughter include:

  • Intent. The fundamental difference lies in intent. Voluntary manslaughter involves an intentional killing, albeit under specific circumstances that mitigate the charge. In contrast, involuntary manslaughter lacks the intent to kill. It is characterized by reckless or negligent conduct leading to death.
  • Circumstances. Voluntary manslaughter often arises from a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. Involuntary manslaughter can occur during the commission of an unlawful act, even if it's not a felony, or during the commission of a lawful act conducted in an unlawful manner or without due caution.
  • Degree of Fault. While both crimes result in the unlawful killing of another person, voluntary manslaughter implies a higher degree of personal fault due to the intentional nature of the act. Involuntary manslaughter, while still a serious offense, reflects a lower degree of personal guilt, primarily due to the absence of intent to kill.

Involuntary Manslaughter Based On Legal Duty

In California, legal duty can arise from various situations, including those related to professions, caregiving, or contractual obligations. It fundamentally entails a responsibility to exercise care and prevent harm to others. When individuals fail to uphold this duty and their negligence leads to someone else's death, the legal system may charge them with involuntary manslaughter.

For example, Dr. John Adams, a skilled and experienced surgeon, receives Sarah Thompson, a patient seeking medical treatment for a serious condition. Dr. Adams has a legal duty to provide Sarah with competent medical care, adhering to the standard of care expected in his profession.

While performing surgery on Sarah, Dr. Adams neglected to follow established medical procedures, leading to a grave mistake during the operation. Due to this negligence, Sarah suffers severe complications, ultimately resulting in her untimely death.

Here, the doctor could face involuntary manslaughter charges based on legal duty due to the following factors:

  1. Existence of a Legal Duty. Dr. Adams has a legal duty to provide proper medical care to his patients, including Sarah. His profession and the doctor-patient relationship establish this duty.
  2. Breach of the Legal Duty. Dr. Adams breaches his legal duty by failing to follow accepted medical procedures during Sarah's surgery. This breach constitutes negligence.
  3. Causation. The breach of duty directly causes harm to Sarah, resulting in severe complications and, ultimately, her death.
  4. Unintentional Act. Dr. Adams did not intend to cause harm or take Sarah's life. His actions were negligent, but he did not have a malicious intent to kill.

Common Types Of Involuntary Manslaughter

Common types of California involuntary manslaughter are:

Reckless Homicide

In California, reckless homicide is primarily governed by Penal Code Section 192(b). To be charged with this offense, you must have acted recklessly, and your actions must have directly resulted in the death of another person.

Recklessness refers to a conscious disregard for human life. It means that you knew your actions could cause serious harm or death to someone but proceeded regardless. Mere negligence, which is a lower level of culpability, is not sufficient for a reckless homicide charge.

For example, John, an individual with a history of excessive speeding, chooses to race his car at high speeds on a residential street. He knows that doing so could lead to a fatal accident, but he decides to engage in this dangerous behavior anyway. Tragically, during this reckless race, John loses control of his vehicle, collides with another car, and causes the death of the driver, Sarah.

In this case, John's conscious disregard for the safety of others by racing recklessly on a residential street resulted in Sarah's death. As a result, he could be charged with reckless homicide under California Penal Code Section 192(b).

Negligent Homicide

Per Penal Code Section 192(b), negligent homicide involves causing another person's death through acts of negligence rather than intentional actions. Unlike recklessness, which involves a conscious disregard for human life, negligence relates to a failure to exercise ordinary care. In legal terms, ordinary care means the level of caution and prudence that a reasonable person would use in similar circumstances.

For example, Lisa, a homeowner, has a swimming pool in her backyard. She knows that it is important to maintain a secure fence around the pool to prevent accidents. However, over time, the fence becomes damaged, and Lisa neglects to repair it. One day, a young child, Mark, wanders into Lisa's yard, falls into the pool, and tragically drowns due to the lack of a proper fence.

In this case, Lisa's failure to maintain a secure pool fence, despite knowing the risks, demonstrates negligence. Her failure to take ordinary care resulted in Mark's death. Lisa could be charged with negligent homicide because her actions, or inaction in this case, led to another person's death.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter involves causing the death of another person while operating a vehicle, typically due to negligence or recklessness. It is a specific form of involuntary manslaughter that focuses on fatalities resulting from car accidents.

Vehicular manslaughter, as defined by Penal Code Section 192(c), occurs when you unintentionally cause another person's death while driving a vehicle in an ordinary negligent manner. Ordinary negligence refers to the failure to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.

Vehicular manslaughter cases can take various forms, including distracted driving, driving under the influence (DUI), and excessive speeding.

  • Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (Penal Code 191.5(a) PC)

Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is a particularly severe form of vehicular manslaughter that involves a combination of intoxication and reckless behavior leading to a fatality.

This offense, as defined by Penal Code 191.5(a) PC, occurs when an individual, while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drives recklessly and causes the death of another person. The "gross" aspect refers to the level of recklessness involved, which is considered extremely high.

  • Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated (Penal Code 191.5(b) PC)

Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, under Penal Code 191.5(b) PC, addresses cases where intoxication is a factor in a fatal accident but without the heightened level of recklessness seen in the "gross" version.

​​This offense occurs when you operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs and, as a result, cause the death of another person. While it shares similarities with gross vehicular manslaughter, it does not require the same extreme recklessness.

  • Vehicular Manslaughter with Ordinary Negligence (Penal Code 192(c) PC)

This subcategory of vehicular manslaughter addresses cases where an individual's ordinary negligence while driving without the influence of alcohol or drugs results in a fatal accident.

Penal Code 192(c) PC comes into play when you unintentionally cause the death of another while driving negligently without the involvement of intoxicating substances.

These different subcategories highlight the varying degrees of guilt associated with vehicular manslaughter cases in California. The specific charges and potential penalties depend on the circumstances surrounding each case and the applicable Penal Code section.

Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing For Penal Code 192b PC

Penalties for involuntary manslaughter vary based on the specific circumstances surrounding your case. Involuntary manslaughter is generally considered a felony offense in California. A felony conviction can have long-lasting consequences, including the loss of certain civil rights and limitations on future opportunities.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, you may face a state prison sentence between two and four years. In addition to imprisonment, the court may impose fines not exceeding $10,000. The court may also order you to pay restitution to the victim's family to cover funeral expenses, medical bills, and other related costs. In some cases, the court may grant probation instead of a prison sentence. A conviction for involuntary manslaughter will result in a permanent criminal record, which can affect various aspects of the defendant's life, including employment, housing, and personal relationships.

Legal Defenses You Could Use to Fight Involuntary Manslaughter

If you or someone you know is facing involuntary manslaughter charges in California, you could use the following defenses to build a solid defense strategy:

You Acted In Self-Defense Or Defense Of Others

Self-defense and defense of others are legal concepts that acknowledge an individual's right to protect themselves or others from harm. Therefore, if a person believes that their life or the life of another is in imminent danger and responds reasonably to that perceived threat, their actions may be considered justifiable, thus absolving them of criminal liability.

However, the response must be proportionate to the perceived threat. In other words, the level of force used should not exceed what is necessary to counter the threat. In California, there is no obligation to retreat before using force in self-defense, but if retreat is an option and a safer alternative, it may impact the defense.

Your belief in the need for self-defense or the defense of others must not only be genuinely held but also objectively reasonable. This means that a reasonable person, in the same situation and with the same information, would have made the same judgment.

The Killing Was An Accident

The defense of accidental killing hinges on the concept of mens rea, or the defendant's state of mind at the time of the incident. The prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with criminal negligence or recklessness, which implies a level of awareness or disregard for the risks associated with their actions.

Your legal team must demonstrate that you did not have the intent to cause harm or death to another person. This means that your actions were not driven by malice or a desire to inflict harm. Your lawyer could also assert that the resulting death was genuinely unforeseeable and could not have been anticipated based on your actions.

Insufficient Evidence

In cases of involuntary manslaughter, the burden of proof lies squarely with the prosecution. They must convincingly demonstrate that you committed the crime and did so with the required level of criminal intent, such as negligence or recklessness. However, if the prosecution's case lacks substantial evidence to support these claims, your defense attorney can vehemently challenge the allegations.

Your lawyer should scrutinize the location and circumstances of the incident and identify factors that cast doubt on the prosecution's narrative. This could include conflicting eyewitness testimonies or physical evidence that contradicts the prosecution's theory. Your attorney could also challenge the credibility of witnesses, including any bias, inconsistencies in their statements, or potential ulterior motives. Unreliable witnesses can undermine the prosecution's case.

In cases involving complex scientific or medical evidence, you may call upon your own experts to refute the prosecution's claims. Disputing the validity of expert opinions can create reasonable doubt.

There Is Insufficient Evidence To Convict You

They must present compelling evidence that not only shows you committed the alleged crime but also that you did so with the required level of criminal intent, such as negligence or recklessness. If the prosecution's case falls short of providing sufficient evidence to support these claims, you could contest the allegations.

Your legal team may undertake several actions to fight your charges, including:

  • Scrutinizing the statements made by witnesses is a crucial aspect of this defense. Inconsistencies, contradictions, or unreliable witness accounts can cast doubt on the prosecution's case.
  • Closely examining any physical evidence presented by the prosecution. This includes forensic evidence, crime scene data, and expert testimonies. Challenging the validity or relevance of this evidence can weaken the prosecution's argument.
  • In cases where expert opinions are central to the prosecution's case, the defense may bring in their own experts to challenge these opinions. Expert witnesses can provide alternative interpretations of the evidence.
  • Ensuring the integrity of evidence is paramount. Any lapses in the chain of custody or mishandling of evidence can raise doubts about its reliability.
  • Involuntary manslaughter charges require specific elements to be proven, such as criminal negligence and causation. The defense may argue that the prosecution has failed to establish one or more of these elements.

You Were Falsely Accused Or Wrongfully Arrested

In the criminal justice system, individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty. False accusations and wrongful arrests can and do occur. To counter such allegations, your defense team may employ various tactics:

If you can provide a solid alibi that demonstrates you were not at the scene of the alleged crime when it occurred, it can be a compelling defense. This often involves presenting witnesses or evidence that places you in a different location at the time of the incident.

In cases where eyewitness identification plays a crucial role, your defense team may challenge the reliability of the identification. Mistaken identity is a common issue in criminal cases, and highlighting discrepancies can cast doubt on the prosecution's case.

In some instances, false accusations may stem from ulterior motives, such as personal vendettas, jealousy, or misunderstandings. Investigating the motives behind the accusations can be essential to building your defense. Wrongful arrests can result from errors or misconduct by law enforcement. Your defense team may scrutinize police procedures, arrests, searches, and interrogations for any violations of your rights.

Contact a Anahiem Criminal Attorney Near Me

Involuntary manslaughter is not a charge to be taken lightly. The implications of a conviction can significantly alter the course of your life. Therefore, it is imperative to seek immediate legal representation if you or a family member face such serious allegations in Anaheim. At the California Criminal Lawyer Group, our seasoned lawyers possess the requisite experience and proficiency to protect your rights and advocate for your best interests. With our comprehensive understanding of California law and our commitment to client advocacy, we are prepared to build a robust defense on your behalf. Contact us at 714-766-0965 to schedule a consultation and learn more about the legal options available to you.