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Tennessee Involuntary Manslaughter Laws

Generally, involuntary manslaughter is when a person causes the death of another human by his or her unlawful, reckless, or grossly negligent actions. It's the disregard for safety or risk of death that makes these actions criminal, rather than the intent to harm the person by the defendant. States view these accidental deaths as still criminal, but not as severe as an intentional killing.

In Tennessee, involuntary manslaughter is divided into three categories of vehicular homicide, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide. These are below the intentional homicide crimes of first degree murder, second degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter (except for vehicular manslaughter which is punished at the same or higher felony level as voluntary manslaughter). Vehicular homicide is prohibited to address negligent driving, such as drunk driving or texting and driving.

Reckless vs. Criminally Negligent Homicide

Reckless homicide and criminally negligent homicide are more loosely defined in Tennessee to address the wide variety of behaviors that could be considered beyond the realm of acceptable to the degree that the actions are criminal. One example of reckless homicide is playing Russian roulette by picking up a gun with a single bullet in it and shooting it at a friend. There's a substantial risk the friend will die. In comparison, picking up a gun you believe is empty but failed to check before shooting at your friend could be criminally negligent, as you should have looked to be sure it was empty but had no knowledge or belief that it was loaded.

Details on Tennessee’s involuntary manslaughter laws are outlined below.

Code Sections

Tennessee Code Sections 39-13-212: Criminally Negligent Homicide, 39-13-213: Vehicular Homicide, and 39-13-215: Reckless Homicide

What is Prohibited?

In Tennessee, there are several different types of involuntary manslaughter that are illegal. In order of severity, shown by penalty class from high to low, they are:

  • Vehicular homicide is the reckless killing of another while driving a car, plane, boat, or other vehicle. The defendant's actions must have created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury, been illegally drag racing, or been intoxicated from alcohol or drugs. Drinking and driving vehicular homicide is a Class B felony. Other vehicular homicide is a Class C felony.
  • Aggravated Vehicular Homicide is when a defendant had two or more DUI or vehicular assault convictions or one prior vehicular homicide or had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .20% or more and one prior DUI or vehicular assualt. In this case, the vehicular homicide is aggravated or increase to a Class A felony.
  • Reckless homicide or recklessly killing a person (other than with a vehicle) is also a crime. It's a Class D felony.
  • Criminally negligent homicide is causing a death due to one's criminally negligent conduct. This is a Class E felony in Tennessee.


The above involuntary manslaughter crimes are subject to the following sentencing ranges:

  • Class B Felony - 8-30 years in prison and a fine not more than $25,000
  • Class C Felony - 3-15 years in prison and a fine not more than $10,000
  • Class D Felony - 2-12 years in prison and a fine not more than $5,000
  • Class E Felony - 1-6 years in prison and a fine not more than $3,000.

Offenders convicted of vehicular homicide will lose their driving privileges for 3-10 years, depending on the circumstances.

Civil Case

If a defendant is found not guilty of any homicide in criminal court, the victim's family may still file a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court. Wrongful death cases have a lower burden of proof so a defendant can be found liable for wrongful death, but not be convicted of any crime associated with the death. Therefore, in the Russian Roulette example, if a person is charged with reckless homicide, but is found not guilty, the family of the victim can still sue in civil court and potentially be awarded monetary compensation for their loss.

If you're sued for a wrongful death, quickly contact an experienced personal injury defense attorney for help.

Note: State laws change frequently -- it's important to verify the laws you are researching.

Research the Law

Tennessee Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resources

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