Charged with involuntary manslaughter? We can help. As a team of former police investigators and District Attorneys, we have decades of legal experience that not only helps us to understand that not every fatal tragedy is a crime but.more importantly.how to convey this very important message to prosecutors, judges and jurors.
Below, our dedicated California criminal defense attorneys1 address the following:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on Penal Code 192(a) Voluntary Manslaughter; Penal Code 187 PC Murder; Penal Code 192(c) Vehicular Manslaughter; California's Driving Under the Influence Laws; Penal Code 191.5(a) Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated Law; Penal Code 191.5(b) Negligent Manslaughter While Intoxicated Law; DUI Murder / Watson Murder; California Legal Defenses; California's Self-Defense Laws; and Accident as a Legal Defense.
Involuntary manslaughter differs from Penal Code 187 PC murder in that it involves an unintentional death.2
California Penal Code 192(b) PC defines "involuntary manslaughter" as an unlawful killing that takes place
- during the commission of an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony), or
- during the commission of a lawful act which involves a high risk of death or great bodily harm that is committed without due caution or circumspection.3
Involuntary manslaughter does not apply to acts that you commit while driving a car (those are covered by California's vehicular manslaughter laws, discussed under Section 4. Related Offenses).4
Let's take a closer look at some of these terms to gain a better understanding of their legal meanings.
An unlawful act (not amounting to a felony)
An "unlawful act" (not amounting to a felony) is either a misdemeanor or an infraction. There is no requirement that the unlawful act be inherently dangerous.that is, an act that carries a high probability that it will result in death. Rather, it is the manner in which this act is performed that creates the criminal liability for this offense.5
Example: A husband and wife are involved in a heated argument. In an effort to "threaten" his wife into silence, the husband retrieves his gun.a misdemeanor pursuant to Penal Code 417 PC California's brandishing a weapon law.6 The wife struggles to get the gun out of her husband's hands and, in doing so, causes the husband to pull the trigger and kill her.
Even though the husband didn't have the intent to kill his wife, the fact that she was killed while he engaged in misdemeanor conduct makes involuntary manslaughter the appropriate charge.
Without due caution and circumspection
The phrase "without due caution and circumspection" is basically synonymous with California's legal definition of "criminal negligence." It is an act which is "aggravated, reckless and flagrant and which is such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinary prudent, careful person under the same circumstances as to be in disregard for human life, or an indifference to the consequences of such an act."7
Criminal negligence means that the death was not the result of inattention, mistaken judgment or misadventure. But rather it was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the aggravated, reckless or negligent conduct.
Example: In People v. Conrad Murray.the pending case against Michael Jackson's doctor.the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office charged Dr. Murray with violating Penal Code 192(b) PC California's involuntary manslaughter law for allegedly administering lethal doses of an anesthetic (propofol) to Jackson while treating him for insomnia. And although this case is still ongoing, it serves as a good example, since it is currently one of the most famous cases dealing with California's involuntary manslaughter laws.
In their complaint, the D.A. stated that "Dr. Murray did unlawfully kill Michael Joseph Jackson by acting without due caution and circumspection". Prosecutors will attempt to prove that Dr. Murray acted with criminal negligence when he administered such a large dose of the anesthetic.an anesthetic that they contend is used in preparation for surgery, not as a sleep aid (which is why it was being used). The D.A. will argue that a reasonable doctor in the same situation would not have authorized the same quantity of the drug.
When someone dies under any kind of "suspicious" circumstances, law enforcement officers and prosecutors are bound to get involved. Police want to hold someone accountable. And often times, as a result, they jump to conclusions or rush investigations, leaving innocent people to defend against false accusations and wrongful arrests.
Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses to California's involuntary manslaughter law that a skilled California criminal defense attorney can present on your behalf. Below are some of the most common.
If you reasonably believed that you were protecting yourself or another person from imminent death or great bodily harm, you may be entitled to an acquittal under California's self-defense laws.8 This defense applies so long as
- you acted reasonably under the circumstances, and
- used no more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances.
Example: Bill and Rich were involved in a bar brawl. Bob, Rich's friend, saw Bill.who was the aggressor in the fight.grab a knife out of his back pocket. As Bill lunged toward Rich with the knife, Bob intercepted the knife, stabbing Bill one time in the chest. Bill died instantly.
Given these facts, Bob's conduct would likely be excused under California's self-defense laws.
If, however, your belief that
- you or another person was about to suffer imminent harm, or
- you needed to use deadly force
was unreasonable, this defense.known as imperfect self-defense.does not excuse involuntary manslaughter. It will, however, reduce a murder charge to involuntary manslaughter if you can prove that you didn't have the intent to kill.9
Example: Changing some of the facts from the last example, let's say that Bill had no knife and that Bill and Rich were simply engaged in a brutal fist fight. Bob.believing that Bill would seriously hurt Rich.grabbed a beer bottle, broke its neck, and slashed Bill across the throat, killing him rather quickly.
Given these facts, Bob's belief that he needed to use deadly force.while likely honest.was not reasonable. But because he was trying to protect Rich during a fight, he would be guilty of manslaughter, not murder.
Sometimes accidents happen - period. Accident is a valid California legal defense when you can prove that you
- had no criminal intent to do harm,
- were not acting negligently at the time of the accident, and
- were otherwise engaged in lawful behavior at the time of the accidental killing."10
The difference between involuntary manslaughter and killing someone by accident is that with involuntary manslaughter, you are necessarily involved in either
- an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony), or
- a lawful act which involves a high degree of risk of death or great bodily injury (and you failed to act in the same manner as another "reasonable person" would have)
at the time you kill the other person.11 However, when you accidentally kill another person, you are not violating any laws at the time of the killing. The unfortunate fact that someone dies doesn't make he act any less accidental.
Example: You are playing baseball with some friends. You hit a foul ball so hard that it hits a child playing in the playground next to the field. The force of the ball knocks the child off the swing where he hits his head on the metal pole, suffers a concussion, and dies the next day.
These facts.while tragic.do not subject you to criminal liability. This was an "accident" in the truest sense of the word, and you should not be held criminally responsible for the child's death.
Similarly, sometimes in what seems like an "open and shut" case, the police make a snap decision regarding the death. They present their case to the prosecutor who simply buys into the cop's account.
This is just one reason why hiring an experienced California criminal defense lawyer is critical. Skilled criminal defense lawyers conduct their own investigations. They invest the time and resources to interview witnesses, reexamine evidence, and routinely consult with independent forensic scientists to uncover what really happened.
Many times, this is why the defense attorney can obtain a favorable outcome for his/her client. After highlighting the flaws in the prosecutor's case, the attorney can explain why the victim's death couldn't possibly have been caused in the manner alleged.
Along these same lines, people sometimes falsely accuse others of this devastating offense. There are almost countless reasons why someone may do this. Accusers can range from an individual trying to cover up his/her own involvement in the victim's death to overzealous law enforcement officers who conduct a shoddy investigation and simply need someone to present to the D.A.
In either event, our team of veteran attorneys know the most effective ways to establish your innocence and clear your name.
Penal Code 192 PC California's involuntary manslaughter law is a felony. A conviction subjects you to
- formal probation with up to one year county jail, OR
- a two, three, or four-year California state prison sentence.
Plus these additional consequences:
- a maximum $10,000 fine,
- the loss of the right to own or possess a firearm pursuant to Penal Code 29800 PC California's "felon with a firearm" law, and
- possible professional discipline (if you hold a professional license).12
In addition, involuntary manslaughter often triggers a civil lawsuit as well. Wrongful death lawsuits are quite common in this state. If found liable, you face additional fines.oftentimes, very substantial fines...in the form of a civil judgment.
*Although this article primarily addresses California's criminal involuntary manslaughter law, we can help you resolve a civil suit as well.
There are several offenses that are related to California's involuntary manslaughter law, as they, too, involve unlawful killings. Some examples are briefly described below.
You violate Penal Code 187 PC California's murder law when you have (1) an intent to kill, and (2) act with malice aforethought (defined as a wanton disregard for human life).13
Example: Tom fired Brad in front of their co-workers. Humiliated, Brad seeks revenge. Four days later, Brad leaves work early, and hides behind Tom's car. When Tom arrives, Brad shoots him.
Unlike this type of intentional killing, involuntary manslaughter takes place when you unintentionally kill another person. Let's say that instead of shooting Tom, Brad waited for Tom and pulled out a knife, intending only to scare him. But as Tom backed up, he tripped backwards over the concrete parking block and broke his neck on the curb and died.
Even though he intended to threaten Tom, Brad had no intent to kill him. Given these facts, involuntary manslaughter would be the appropriate charge.
Penal Code 192(a) PC California's voluntary manslaughter law may be charged when you kill another person during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. This charge is very closely related to murder, except that here, there is no malice, since the killing takes place under spontaneous circumstances.14
Example: Still relying on the examples above, let's say that Tom not only fires Brad in front of the entire office, but also tells him that he's been sleeping with Brad's wife for the past two years. Enraged, Brad grabs a metal letter opener and repeatedly stabs Tom with it. Tom later dies.
Because Brad reacted in the "heat of passion", he would more likely be guilty of voluntary manslaughter than murder.
If convicted of voluntary manslaughter, you face three, six, or eleven years in the state prison.15
California's vehicular manslaughter laws are, perhaps, the most closely related to our involuntary manslaughter laws. Both involve the exact same conduct.engaging in a lawful act in an unlawfully dangerous manner or engaging in an unlawful act with or without gross negligence.
The difference is that involuntary manslaughter doesn't apply to acts committed while driving a vehicle.16
And unlike California's involuntary manslaughter law, vehicular manslaughter is what's known as a "wobbler". Prosecutors can charge wobblers as either felonies or misdemeanors. If convicted of felony vehicular manslaughter, you face two-to-ten years in the state prison. If convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, you face up to one-year in a county jail.17
If the driver was accused of simultaneously violating California's driving under the influence laws, prosecutors would likely charge either
- Penal Code 191.5(b) California's negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated law,18
- Penal Code 191.5(a) California's gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated law,19 or
- second-degree DUI murder (also known as Watson murder).
The level of your negligence.separate and apart from your impaired driving.is what dictates whether prosecutors charge you with negligent vehicular manslaughter (which is also a wobbler) or gross vehicular manslaughter (which is an automatic felony).
Second-degree DUI murder (aka Watson murder) is generally reserved for repeat DUI offenders who the courts impute with malice based on the fact that they are already aware of the true risks involved with drinking and driving. If convicted of this offense, you face the same penalties that are imposed in connection with second-degree murder.a 15-years-to life sentence in the state prison.
Call us for help.
If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 192 (b) pc involuntary manslaughter and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions relating to Nevada's involuntary manslaughter laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.20
1Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
2California Penal Code 187 -- Murder. ("(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.")
See also People v. Broussard (1977) 76 Cal.App.3d 193, 197. ("Involuntary manslaughter is thus inherently an unintentional killing. (CALJIC No. 8.45; People v. Germany (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 414, 419, 116 Cal.Rptr. 841; Perkins on Criminal Law (1969) ch. 2, p. 70.)")
3California Penal Code 192 PC -- California's involuntary manslaughter law. ("Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:..(b) Involuntary -- in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.")
See also California Jury Instructions - Criminal. CALJIC 8.45 Involuntary manslaughter. ("In order to prove this crime, each of the following elements must be proved:  A human being was killed; and  The killing was unlawful. A killing is unlawful within the meaning of this instruction if it occurred:  During the commission of an unlawful act [not amounting to a felony] which is dangerous to human life under the circumstances of its commission; or  In the commission of an act, ordinarily lawful, which involves a high degree of risk of death or great bodily harm, without due caution and circumspection.")
4California Penal Code 192(b) - California's involuntary manslaughter law. ("Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds.(b) Involuntary--in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.")
5People v. Wells (1996) 12 Cal.4th 979, summary. ("The Supreme Court, Baxter, J., held that for purposes of statute which defines vehicular manslaughter as driving vehicle in commission of unlawful act not amounting to felony and with gross negligence, the "unlawful act" must be inherently dangerous under circumstances of its commission, not dangerous in abstract and, thus, defendant who killed passenger in another automobile while driving with gross negligence and exceeding speed limit was guilty of vehicular manslaughter even though speeding is not inherently dangerous in abstract.")
6Penal Code 417 PC California's brandishing a weapon law. ("(a)(1) Every person who, except in self-defense, in the presence of any other person, draws or exhibits any deadly weapon whatsoever, other than a firearm, in a rude, angry, or threatening manner, or who in any manner, unlawfully uses a deadly weapon other than a firearm in any fight or quarrel is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than 30 days.")
7CALJIC 8.46 -- Due caution and circumspection, defined. ("The term "without due caution and circumspection" refers to [a] negligent act[s] which [is] [are] aggravated, reckless and flagrant and which [is] [are] such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily prudent, careful person under the same circumstances as to be in disregard for human life, or an indifference to the consequences of such act[s]. The facts must be such that the consequences of the negligent act[s] could reasonably have been foreseen. It must also appear that the [death] [danger to human life] was not the result of inattention, mistaken judgment or misadventure, but the natural and probable result of an aggravated, reckless or grossly negligent act."
8Judicial Council Of California Criminal Jury Instruction 505 -- Justifiable Homicide: California Self-Defense or Defense of Others. ("The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if:  The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] <insert name or description of third party>) was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being (raped/maimed/robbed/ <insert other forcible and atrocious crime>)];  The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND  The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.")
9People v. Blakeley (2000) 23 Cal.4th 82, 90-91. ("["[I]mperfect self-defense could, depending on the existence of an intent to kill, result in a verdict of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter."]; People v. Ceja (1994) 26 Cal.App.4th 78, 86, 31 Cal.Rptr.2d 475 [" 'A person who kills another in the honest but unreasonable belief in the necessity to defend against imminent peril to life or great bodily injury may be guilty of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter depending on the existence of an intent to kill.' "].)")
10California Penal Code 26 PC -- Persons capable of committing crime; exceptions. ("All persons are capable of committing crimes except those belonging to the following classes.Five--Persons who committed the act or made the omission charged through misfortune or by accident, when it appears that there was no evil design, intention, or culpable negligence.")
See also California Penal Code 195 PC -- Excusable homicide. ("Homicide is excusable in the following cases:  When committed by accident and misfortune, or in doing any other lawful act by lawful means, with usual and ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent.  When committed by accident and misfortune, in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, when no undue advantage is taken, nor any dangerous weapon used, and when the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.")
11CALJIC 8.45 -- California's involuntary manslaughter law. ("A killing is unlawful within the meaning of this instruction if it occurred:  During the commission of an unlawful act [not amounting to a felony] which is dangerous to human life under the circumstances of its commission; or  In the commission of an act, ordinarily lawful, which involves a high degree of risk of death or great bodily harm, without due caution and circumspection.")
12California Penal Code 193 PC -- Involuntary manslaughter; punishment. ("(b) [California] Involuntary manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.")
See also California Penal Code 672 PC -- Offenses for which no fine prescribed; fine authorized in addition to imprisonment. ("Upon a conviction for any crime punishable by imprisonment in any jail or prison, in relation to which no fine is herein prescribed, the court may impose a fine on the offender not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) in cases of misdemeanors or ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in cases of felonies, in addition to the imprisonment prescribed.")
See also Penal Code 29800 PC California's "felon with a firearm" law. ("(a)(1) Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country or of an offense enumerated in subdivision (a), (b), or (d) of Section 12001.6, or who is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony.")
California state licensing agencies have the ability to discipline their members when they are arrested or convicted of crimes. For more information, please review our many license-specific articles on professional discipline issues.
13California Penal Code 187 PC -- Murder. ("(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.")
See also CALJIC 8.11 - "Malice Aforethought". (""Malice" may be either express or implied. [Malice is express when there is manifested an intention unlawfully to kill a human being.] [Malice is implied when: 1 The killing resulted from an intentional act; 2 The natural consequences of the act are dangerous to human life; and 3 The act was deliberately performed with knowledge of the danger to, and with conscious disregard for, human life.]")
14California Penal Code 192 PC -- Manslaughter. ("Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds: (a) Voluntary--upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.")
See also CALJIC 8.40 -- Voluntary manslaughter. ("Every person who unlawfully kills another human being [without malice aforethought but] either with an intent to kill, or with conscious disregard for human life, is guilty of voluntary manslaughter in violation of Penal Code section 192, subdivision (a). [There is no malice aforethought if the killing occurred [upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion] [or] [in the actual but unreasonable belief in the necessity to defend [oneself] [or] [another person] against imminent peril to life or great bodily injury].]")
15California Penal Code 193 PC -- Manslaughter; punishment. ("(a) Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 3, 6, or 11 years.")
16California Penal Code 192(c) -- Vehicular manslaughter. ("Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds.(c) Vehicular-- (1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence. (2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence. (3) Driving a vehicle in connection with a violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 550, where the vehicular collision or vehicular accident was knowingly caused for financial gain and proximately resulted in the death of any person This provision shall not be construed to prevent prosecution of a defendant for the crime of murder.")
17California Penal Code 193 PC -- Manslaughter; punishment. ("(c) Vehicular manslaughter is punishable as follows: (1) A violation of paragraph (1) of subdivision (c) of Section 192 is punishable either by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, four, or six years. (2) A violation of paragraph (2) of subdivision (c) of Section 192 is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one year. (3) A violation of paragraph (3) of subdivision (c) of Section 192 is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for 4, 6, or 10 years.")
18Penal Code 191.5(b) California's negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated law. ("(b) Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, but without gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.")
19Penal Code 191.5(a) California's gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated law. ("("(a) Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought, in the driving of a vehicle, where the driving was in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of the Vehicle Code, and the killing was either the proximate result of the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony, and with gross negligence, or the proximate result of the commission of a lawful act that might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence.")
20Please feel free to contact our Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions relating to Nevada's murder laws. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.