There is a significant legal difference between intentionally killing another person and accidentally causing their death. What happens when someone is killed by accident or by carelessness? Is it still murder? If not, is it still a crime? And if it is a crime, what are the possible penalties? The following article briefly summarizes what is known as involuntary manslaughter law in Michigan.
General Involuntary Manslaughter Information
Involuntary manslaughter (also called criminally negligent manslaughter) occurs when one person kills another resulting from an accident or gross negligence. It also occurs when someone intends to cause bodily harm to another person but without the intent to kill them.
Unlike a murder charge, involuntary manslaughter means that a person had no intention of killing another but, due to their careless or reckless actions, caused the death of a human being.
Manslaughter and Drunk Driving
Deaths resulting from driving under the influence (DUI/OWI) situations may result in a criminal case for involuntary manslaughter. Moreover, when a driver is distracted and causes an accident, it may lead to the crime of manslaughter.
For example, suppose Don is talking on his mobile phone and not paying attention to the road. He runs a red light and causes a crash, leading to a person’s death. A court could find Don guilty of involuntary manslaughter under Michigan law. The prosecution must prove Don’s gross negligence caused the accident and death.
Manslaughter Civil Penalties
Suppose the government charges a person with involuntary manslaughter. At the criminal trial, the jury acquits the defendant. This might not be the end of the legal battles.
The deceased’s family may file a wrongful death claim against the defendant in civil court. Most wrongful death lawsuits follow in the wake of criminal trials. The trial will likely use similar evidence, but the plaintiffs have a lower standard of proof.
Michigan Involuntary Manslaughter Statutes
The following table highlights the main provisions of Michigan's involuntary manslaughter laws.
Michigan Penal Code 750.321
"Criminally negligent homicide"
What Is Prohibited?
Unintentionally killing another person that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI)
Felony, up to 15 years in prison, a fine up to $7500, or both.
Possible wrongful death lawsuit
Involuntary Manslaughter and the Oxford High School Shooting
In February 2024, a Michigan jury found the mother of a school shooter guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The conviction is the first time a jury in the United States has convicted a parent of manslaughter resulting from their child’s mass shooting.
Ethan Crumbley killed four students and injured seven other people at Oxford High School in November 2021. In October 2022, he pleaded guilty to 24 criminal charges. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Law enforcement arrested Ethan’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, soon after the school shooting. The government charged the parents with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. The government alleged that Ethan’s parents did not take appropriate action to prevent Ethan from committing the mass shooting.
In Jennifer’s involuntary manslaughter trial, the prosecution argued that Ethan asked his parents for mental health help from a professional, which they ignored. The prosecution also asserted his parents ignored several signs that Ethan was “troubled.” At her trial, Jennifer argued that her husband bought Ethan a gun on November 26, 2021.
On November 30, 2021, a teacher found a drawing Ethan left on his desk. The drawing depicted a handgun, a person appearing to have been shot, and a message saying, “The thoughts won’t stop,” and “Help me.” A concerned school staff member reported the note to the administration.
The school called Ethan’s parents, who met with school staff about the drawing and notes that day. The prosecution asserted that the parents decided to leave Ethan in school that day rather than take him home. Neither parent told the school about Ethan’s mental health issues or that they had bought him a gun recently. Shortly after the meeting, Ethan committed the mass shooting with the gun his parents bought six days earlier.
Jennifer’s criminal trial in Michigan court began in late January 2024. The prosecution had to prove one of two theories beyond a reasonable doubt:
- That Jennifer “caused death” due to her grossly negligent actions, or
- That Jennifer breached her duty as a parent to “exercise reasonable care to control their minor child so as to prevent the minor child from intentionally harming others or prevent the minor child from conducting themselves in a way that creates an unreasonable risk of bodily harm to others.”
On February 6, 2024, a jury found Jennifer guilty of four charges of manslaughter. Legal experts believe Jennifer’s manslaughter conviction could change the course of manslaughter cases related to mass shootings in the United States. Criminal investigations into the parents or guardians of mass shooters may lead to additional criminal trials for involuntary manslaughter.
Michigan Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resource
If you face an involuntary manslaughter charge, you may wish to contact an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney for assistance. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can provide helpful legal advice, such as:
- How to prepare for an upcoming criminal trial and possible defense strategies for your case
- General information about criminal law, such as first-degree and second-degree murder charges
- Defenses to involuntary manslaughter charges, such as self-defense or heat of passion
For more general information on this topic, you can visit FindLaw’s sections on Involuntary Manslaughter Defenses, Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentences, and Voluntary Manslaughter.