Prosecutors trying to convict a defendant on involuntary manslaughter charges don't need to prove intent. This is because malice is not an element of this crime. But the prosecution must show that:
- Someone was killed as a result of an act by the defendant;
- This act was inherently dangerous or done recklessly; and
- The defendant should have known the act threatened the lives of others
Generally speaking, a criminal attorney will attempt to cast doubt on at least one of these three elements. They will do this to defend their client from an involuntary manslaughter charge.
Different states define involuntary manslaughter differently. Some states don't even use the term. They base the severity of unintentional homicide charges on the defendant's degree of negligence or the defendant's degree of recklessness. In all such cases, the burden falls on the prosecution to prove that the defendant somehow caused another person's death. Whatever the prosecution must prove, a necessary element of the crime is that it results in the death of another person.
Charges for this offense are not considered as serious as murder charges. But it's important to know how to defend yourself if you're facing such charges, regardless of their severity.
Below are some common involuntary manslaughter defenses. These can be used as possible defenses if you're facing involuntary manslaughter charges.
'It Was in Self-Defense'
Some state jurisdictions allow for the acquittal of involuntary manslaughter charges. There may be acquittal if defendants are able to prove they reasonably suspected that they were protecting themselves. These states also may allow acquittal if the defendant was protecting another person from imminent death or serious harm. For example, relevant California law requires those using this defense to prove they acted reasonably. Defendants must prove reasonable action given the circumstances, and that they didn't use more force than was necessary.
Example: An armed intruder enters your work. You reach for a pair of scissors and fatally stab him just as he cocks his gun to shoot. The same defense would not hold up if the intruder was unarmed. There wouldn't have been a reasonable expectation that your life was in imminent danger.
'It Was an Accident'
Sometimes accidents happen in the absence of negligence or recklessness. This particular defense would challenge the claim that the defendant acted irresponsibly. It would also challenge the idea that the defendant had any idea that their actions could have resulted in another person's death.
Example: A professional baseball player's bat smashes into pieces upon making contact with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball. The largest piece hurtles into the stands and strikes a fan in the temple. The piece kills the fan. In this case, the batter had no criminal intent, was not acting negligently, and was otherwise acting lawfully at the time of the killing.
In a case where the involuntary manslaughter occurred as a result of driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while under the influence (DWI), claims of the death occurring as a result of an accident will not be as useful as they otherwise would. Driving under the influence is considered a crime in and of itself. An offense of this type, involving an automobile, is considered vehicular manslaughter, as well.
The Prosecution Has Insufficient Evidence
Involuntary manslaughter cases are easier to prove than murder cases. This is the case because murder cases require the element of criminal intent. Prosecutors still have the burden of proof. A criminal defense attorney may challenge the state's case through investigations. They may also do so through a reexamination of the evidence. In addition, they may do so through interviews with witnesses, expert witnesses, and other legal tactics.
If the evidence doesn't support a causal link between the defendant and the unintended killing, or if the evidence was not obtained properly, then it might not secure a conviction. Because the prosecution will need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed the crime, insufficient evidence can be a powerful defense.
Example: A woman is arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter after her car struck and killed a pedestrian at night. Some eyewitnesses claim that the driver was speeding, while others claim the opposite. The judge also decides to throw out witness testimony from a friend stating that the driver likes to drive fast. In addition, the defense brings witnesses who state that the victim was wearing dark clothing and walked unexpectedly into the path of the defendant's car. Having this evidentiary record will make it hard for the prosecutor to secure a conviction.
Falsely Accused or Wrongfully Arrested
This involuntary manslaughter defense basically claims that the prosecution has the wrong suspect—the "I didn't do it!" defense. Sometimes individuals who, in fact, did commit the crime accuse others in order to cover their tracks. Other times the defendant was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, individuals occasionally are arrested by overzealous police officers anxious to present a suspect to the district attorney. In any event, the prosecution has to be able to prove that the defendant is indeed the one who committed the crime.
Example: A car speeds through a red light, striking and killing a boy who was crossing the street, and then flees the scene. Witnesses differ in their statements to police. The officers decide to go with the majority opinion. They arrest an individual who fits that description. Do they have the right suspect? Prosecutors will need better evidence to convict.
Other Elements of the Crime To Consider for a Defense Strategy
Unlike murder, involuntary manslaughter lacks the element of premeditation. In this way, it differs dramatically from a charge of first-degree murder or second-degree murder. Nonetheless, this type of offense always involves the loss of human life. It's important to know about other elements of this crime. You need to know whether the charge you are facing is the correct one.
This type of offense may involve intoxication. In this case, such as with DUIs or DWIs, it will be considered intoxication manslaughter. In any given jurisdiction, there can be many types of manslaughter. The type of manslaughter can depend on the variety of unlawful act in question, with the necessary element always being the loss of human life. The victim's death must occur by accident and without intent; it must be an unintentional killing. In some jurisdictions, an element of the crime includes occurring during the heat of passion. This refers to an offender's lack of premeditation.
If you're facing charges for such an offense, it's important you take them seriously and get the help you need. These offenses can result in a long prison sentence. Verify the laws of your state to determine the elements of the crime. Contact a lawyer, as well, for help.
Learn More About Involuntary Manslaughter Defenses From an Attorney
Involuntary manslaughter charges usually come out of situations where people are acting quickly without considering possible consequences. Don't make the same mistake twice. Contact a local criminal defense attorney to help you determine how to best defend yourself against these serious charges. If your charge is related to manslaughter, you should seek legal advice from a manslaughter lawyer.
This area of criminal law is a murky one. Contact a lawyer today for help for assistance with any criminal cases you may be facing.