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Involuntary Manslaughter Overview

Consider the following scenario: Dan comes home to find his wife in bed with his former best friend, Victor. Distraught, Dan storms out of the house and ends up at a local bar, where he tries to drown his sorrows in alcohol. Five drinks later, Dan jumps into his car and tears down the road at twice the posted speed limit. Predictably, Dan loses control of his vehicle and causes a deadly crash. When he regains consciousness, he is under arrest and is now charged with the involuntary manslaughter of a deceased motorist.

If Dan had instead stayed home and killed Victor in the "heat of passion" when he discovered the affair, he would have likely been charged with the more serious crime of voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from criminal negligence or recklessness, or from dangerous or impaired driving. It differs from voluntary manslaughter primarily because the victim's death is unintended.

The following article provides an overview of involuntary manslaughter and how it differs from voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter: The Basics

Charges of involuntary manslaughter (sometimes called "criminally negligent homicide") often come in the wake of a deadly car crash caused by a motorist under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While the motorist never intended to kill anyone, their negligence in operating a vehicle while impaired is enough to meet the requirements of the charge. Some states recognize a separate class of manslaughter called vehicular manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter does not have to involve motor vehicles. For example, if the operator of a dangerous carnival ride fails to ensure that all passengers are strapped in and people die as a result, the operator could be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter. A building manager who recklessly neglects to install smoke detectors before the occurrence of a deadly fire might be charged with involuntary manslaughter, too.

Involuntary manslaughter is punished less severely than other forms of homicide but still is a serious crime. Under Pennsylvania law, for example, involuntary manslaughter is charged as a first-degree misdemeanor. This carries a penalty of imprisonment for up to five years; but if the act is committed by the caretaker of a child under 12, it's charged as a second-degree felony (with a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years upon conviction).

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

While both crimes are called manslaughter, there are key differences. Voluntary manslaughter describes an intentional killing in the heat of the moment and lacks the specific intent required for murder. For example, Aidan and Bert are carpenters who suddenly quarrel at a work site, if Aidan fatally clobbers Bert with his hammer during a sudden quarrel, the offense would likely be voluntary manslaughter. The concept holds that because Aidan was driven by the "heat of passion," his moral blame is lessened, so he likely would not be charged with murder, even in the second degree.

In contrast, involuntary manslaughter concerns accidental deaths, such as traffic fatalities caused by impaired drivers. However, most states generally define homicides as murder, not manslaughter, when someone unintentionally kills another while committing a robbery, kidnapping, or other "inherently dangerous" felony.

For example, if robbers are speeding away from the scene of a crime, and they accidentally run over a pedestrian while being pursued by police, they could be charged with murder. Even though the pedestrian's death was accidental, it would likely be charged as murder because it occurred in connection with a robbery. However, most blameworthy unintentional killings fit the category of involuntary manslaughter.

Get Legal Help with Your Involuntary Manslaughter Case

If you are facing criminal charges, do not wait to speak with an experienced attorney who will protect your legal rights and help you establish a defense. An experienced attorney will know how to challenge the prosecution, negotiate a plea deal, and work toward the best possible outcome.

Contact a qualified criminal defense lawyer near you today.

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