In California, Negligent homicide is a criminal offense in which a person commits some act of criminal negligence, and it results in the taking of a human life. Criminal negligence refers to conduct in which a person ignores a known or obvious risk or disregards the life and safety of others. Under California law, negligent homicide cases are charged as involuntary manslaughter, per Penal Code 192b PC.
- leaving a Pitbull with a history of attacks off leash and the animal kills a person.
- texting while driving at top speeds in a crowded neighborhood and hitting (and killing) a pedestrian.
- firing a weapon in the air at a crowded celebration and the bullet strikes and kills a participant.
People accused of negligent homicide can challenge the accusation with a legal defense. A few common legal defenses include defendants showing that:
- they were acting in self-defense,
- the “victim” was killed on accident, and/or
- there is insufficient evidence to support a guilty verdict.
- custody in state prison for up to four years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. How does California law define “negligent homicide”?
- 2. Are there legal defenses to California Penal Code 192b charges?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses?
1. How does California law define “negligent homicide”?
A prosecutor must prove the following elements of the crime to successfully convict a person on negligent homicide/involuntary manslaughter charges:
- the defendant committed a crime or a lawful act in an unlawful manner,
- the defendant committed the crime or act with criminal negligence, and
- the defendant’s acts caused the death of another person.1
“Criminal negligence” is more than just ordinary negligence, carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. It occurs when:
- a person acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury, and
- a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.2
Two examples of a person acting with criminal negligence include:
- swiping at someone’s hand while he/she is holding a loaded gun or other deadly weapon,3 and
- leaving a child in an unattended car in hot weather.
2. Are there legal defenses to California Penal Code 192b charges?
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies when representing defendants in involuntary manslaughter cases. Three common defenses include showing that:
- a defendant acted in self-defense.
- the “victim” was killed on accident.
- there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt.
Self-defense works as a legal defense to a manslaughter charge when all of the following are true:
- the accused reasonably believed that he/she, or another person, was in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm,
- the defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger, and
- the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.4
This is a similar defense to an accused showing that he/she did not act with criminal negligence. An accident defense works if defendants can show that they:
- had no criminal intent to do harm,
- were not acting with criminal negligence at the time of the accidental killing, and
- were otherwise engaged in lawful activity at the time of the accident.5
2.3. Insufficient evidence
Sometimes police and prosecutors rush to charge a person in negligent homicide cases. As a result, they sometimes have little evidence to support a manslaughter conviction. This means defendants can always try to show their innocence by showing there is insufficient evidence to establish guilt.
3. What are the penalties?
Per California State’s criminal laws, prosecutors file charges of involuntary manslaughter as felony offenses.
Convictions are punishable by:
- custody in state prison (as opposed to county jail) for up to four years, and/or
- a maximum fine of $10,000.6
Note that a judge has the authority to award a defendant with felony (or formal) probation in lieu of prison time.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to negligent homicide. These are:
- murder – PC 187,
- voluntary manslaughter – PC 192a, and
- gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – PC 191.5.
4.1. Murder – PC 187
Murder charges are more serious than charges under California’s manslaughter laws. A murder conviction carries 25 years-to-life in state prison.
4.2. Voluntary manslaughter – PC 192a
Per Penal Code 192a, voluntary manslaughter is the crime where people kill a person and do so:
- during a sudden quarrel,
- in the heat of passion, or
- based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend oneself.
As with criminal charges under PC 192b, defendants can defend against PC 192a charges by showing that they killed a “victim” by accident.
4.3. Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – PC 191.5
Under Penal Code 191.5, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is the crime where people commit the crime of vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI).
While prosecutors must show that a defendant acted with criminal negligence to secure a conviction under PC 192b, they must show gross negligence for a PC 191.5 conviction.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
Our lawyers also represent clients throughout California, including those in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange County.
- CALCRIM No. 580 – Involuntary Manslaughter (Pen. Code 192b). Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition). See also People v. Soto (1999), 74 Cal.App.4th 1099.
- See same. See also People v. Butler (2010), 187 Cal.App.4th 998.
- See State v. Reynolds (2003) 587 S.E.2d 456.
- CALCRIM 3470 – Right to Self-Defense or Defense of Others.
- California Penal Code 195 PC.
- California Penal Code 193 PC.