Manslaughter is the killing of one human being by another but is not premeditated. In Virginia, involuntary manslaughter occurs when someone unintentionally causes the death of another person, such as when the person is driving or operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Involuntary Manslaughter and DUI
In Virginia, driving under the influence could produce an involuntary manslaughter charge if the driver causes an accident. For example, David had a few beers on his way home from work, and gets behind the wheel of his car. If David swerves into the oncoming lane, colliding with Frank’s car and killing Frank, he could be guilty of involuntary manslaughter because the accident was actually caused by David’s driving under the influence.
Manslaughter Civil Penalties
Even if a person, like David in the example above, is charged with involuntary manslaughter in criminal court and is acquitted, the deceased’s family, Frank’s, can still file what is called a wrongful death claim in civil court. Most wrongful death lawsuits come after criminal trials, and can use similar evidence but with a lower standard of proof. Regardless, a person found liable for wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime associated with that death.
Involuntary Manslaughter Statutes in Virginia
The following table highlights the main provisions of Virginia's involuntary manslaughter laws.
Code of Virginia §18.2-36.1
"DUI Involuntary Manslaughter," "Vehicular Manslaughter"
What is Prohibited?
Unintentionally causing the death of another person, such as driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and/or drugs.
Class 5 felony: imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than 10 years or confinement in jail for not more than 12 months, and a possible fine of not more than $2,500.
However, if the court finds that the defendant's conduct was gross, wanton, and showed a reckless disregard for the life of others (such as operating a vehicle at an extremely high blood alcohol content), the maximum prison sentence may be raised to 20 years.
Other potential penalties include the revocation of your driver's license and completion of an alcohol safety action program.
Virginia Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resources
All criminal charges are serious, and can have severe penalties. If you find yourself facing an involuntary manslaughter charge, you may wish to contact an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney for assistance. For more introductory material on this topic, you can visit FindLaw’s sections on Voluntary Manslaughter Defenses, Voluntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentences, and Involuntary Manslaughter.