Involuntary Manslaughter Overview
Involuntary Manslaughter: Definition
Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as DUI). The usual distinction from voluntary manslaughter is that involuntary manslaughter (sometimes called "criminally negligent homicide") is a crime in which the victim's death is unintended.
For example, Dan comes home to find his wife in bed with Victor. Distraught, Dan heads to a local bar to drown his sorrows. After having five drinks, Dan jumps into his car and drives down the street at twice the posted speed limit, accidentally hitting and killing a pedestrian.
Elements of the Offense
Three elements must be satisfied in order for someone to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter:
- Someone was killed as a result of act by the defendant.
- The act either was inherently dangerous to others or done with reckless disregard for human life.
- The defendant knew or should have known his or her conduct was a threat to the lives of others.
Charges of involuntary manslaughter often come in the wake of a deadly car crash caused by a motorist under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. While the motorist never intended to kill anyone, his or her negligence in operating a car while impaired is enough to meet the requirements of the charge.
Activities that are entirely legal can also result in involuntary manslaughter charges when carried out irresponsibly or recklessly. For example, if the operator of a dangerous carnival ride recklessly fails to ensure that all passengers are strapped in and people die as a result, a prosecutor may decide to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against the operator.
Manslaughter versus Murder
As noted above, involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another human. This differs from first or second degree murder in that the killing is accidental -- resulting from recklessness, criminal negligence or in the commission of a misdemeanor or low-level felony. However, an unintentional killing committed in the commission of an "inherently dangerous" felony, is treated as first degree murder in most states.
Similarly, involuntary manslaughter often is defined as the unlawful killing of a human without malice aforethought, which is just another way of saying "without criminal intent." Acts leading up to this charge, but not falling into the category of murder, range from running a red light and accidentally killing a pedestrian to cases of more serious negligence, such as a building manager's failure to install smoke detectors before the occurrence of a deadly fire.