Causing another person's death through reckless behavior, or in the commission of another crime but without intent to kill, carries a lighter sentence than most other forms of homicide, like first or second degree murder. That's because society, (through it's judges and representatives), has determined that it's important to distinguish between the serial killer and the absent minded driver. A further distinction is also made between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. The penalties and sentencing for voluntary manslaughter is more harsh than involuntary manslaughter penalties and sentencing.
Although involuntary manslaughter sentences differ among the states, the crime is usually treated as a felony at both the federal and state level. This means that it can be punished by at least 12 months imprisonment, fines and probation, among other sentences.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: Federal Level
The base sentence for involuntary manslaughter under federal sentencing guidelines is a 10 to 16 month prison sentence, which increases if the crime was committed through an act of reckless conduct. The minimum sentence for involuntary manslaughter committed with an automobile is higher still, although judges may use a certain amount discretion in those cases.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: State Level
While states often take their cues from the federal courts when drafting their own sentencing guidelines, they do vary widely on this issue. States will generally give a range of possible sentences and allow judges discretion in determining what sentence to actually impose.
In making their determination, judges will also look to any aggravating and mitigating factors to decide how harsh of a sentence to hand down. Aggravating factors are those that increase the severity of the crime and include things such as the defendant's history of reckless behavior. Mitigating factors tend to decrease the sentence, and typically involve factors such as the defendant's acceptance of responsibility for the crime and lack of criminal history.
Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
Two examples illustrate the difference in sentences between state and federal cases, that of former California police officer Johannes Mehserle and Tommy Morgan, a member of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
In 2010, Mehserle was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in state court after he accidentally drew his pistol instead of his stun gun and fatally shot an unarmed man. At the time of his conviction, he received a two-year prison sentence. California's sentencing guidelines mandated a two- to four-year sentence.
Morgan was found guilty in federal court of killing a man while driving recklessly and under the influence of alcohol in 2011. He was charged in federal court because the killing took place on federal land. At the time of his conviction, he was sentenced to a 12-month prison term and three years' of supervised release.
Questions About Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentences? Ask an Attorney
While not as serious as a murder charge, the penalties for involuntary manslaughter can still be harsh; a conviction can result in imprisonment. If you're facing involuntary manslaughter charges, it's important to understand the laws of your state as you prepare your defense. For this reason, it may be a good idea to contact a local criminal defense attorney discuss your case.