In California, various crimes are classified as violent crimes. A conviction for these offenses can negatively affect your future because of the lengthy prison incarceration and hefty fines. One of these crimes is manslaughter, and although it appears to be a less severe crime than murder, it carries severe consequences, hence the need for a proficient manslaughter defense lawyer.

At the Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand the fear and uncertainty that comes with killing another person without prior planning. Our lawyers will put the best foot forward and work tirelessly to protect your legal rights and freedom.

Legal Definition of Manslaughter

Manslaughter is defined as taking the life of another human being without the intent, decision, or plans to cause death. The charges often result from accidental circumstances where a person loses life because of a particular event. PC 192a, PC 192b & PC 192c are the Code sections that outline three types of manslaughter: voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular. The difference between the PC 192 and PC 192b lies in the intent of the perpetrator.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Penal Code 192a describes voluntary manslaughter as killing another human being after you have been provoked during an impulsive quarrel, in the heat of emotions, or due to self-defense where your actions are understandable but not excusable. You may end up with these charges if you have been accused of murder and have successfully convinced the prosecutor that your actions were not willful or the victim caused a situation where you were strongly provoked to the extent your judgment was impaired.

Taking the life of another person during a heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel means:

  • Another person provoked you.

  • Due to the provocation, you reacted rashly and under the influence of intense emotions that impaired your ability to make rational judgments or decisions.

  • The provocation would have made a sensible person under the circumstances to act with passion instead of judgment.

Keep in mind that the circumstances that resulted in your taking life determine if you will be charged with murder or manslaughter. A classic scenario of voluntary manslaughter is where you find your partner cheating, and during the altercation, you kill your partner or your partner’s lover. Other acts that might cause provocation resulting in homicide include mutual combat between you and the victim or murder of a loved one.

The prosecution will agree to lower the charges of murder to manslaughter if you can show that an ordinarily careful person under similar circumstances could have been strongly provoked and acted rashly without logical thinking. Furthermore, it must be clear that there was no cooling time or adequate time to relax or regain your sober thinking between when you were provoked, and the moment you took a life. In case you had time to cool off, you will be charged with murder.

Remember that there is no standard way of determining provocation. It is up to you and your defense lawyers to show that the provocation was the cause of death or can be directly linked to you taking another person’s life.

Penalties of Violating PC 192a

If you end up with a sentence for voluntary murder, you risk facing three, six, or eleven years in state prison. Other penalties for this crime include:

  • A possible strike on your record as per the Three Strikes Law

  • Court fines amounting to ten thousand dollars

  • Withdrawal of rights own or possess a firearm

  • Community service

  • Attending an anger management counseling program

  • Any other terms that the judge deems necessary based on the nature of your case

It’s worth noting that community service is imposed in place of probation or court fines to benefit the community your actions offended. Under these charges, you must serve a jail sentence before serving the remaining jail time in the form of community service. Whether or not you will be granted community labor depends on:

  • Your prior criminal history

  • Whether your release will be of a danger to the community

  • Your ability to comply with the terms and conditions of community labor

  • Restitution of the victims

A violation of the terms of probation will result in reinstatement of the initial sentence, contempt of court charges, or stricter consequences. For this reason, retain the services of a criminal lawyer who will ensure the conditions imposed are achievable and that you don’t dodge any of the conditions.

If the court thinks your actions were due to mental health issues, they might impose counseling services.

Legal Defenses for Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

Several legal defenses can be applied by your criminal defense lawyer to help lower or dismiss the charges. If at the time you took a human being’s life you:

  • Reasonably believed that your life or that of another party was in danger or

  • Risked suffering great bodily injuries,

The law allows you to use reasonable false to repel the danger, which includes killing. As such, you might argue that you were defending yourself or somebody else.

In case you had a reasonable belief that you or another person was about to be killed or seriously hurt and sensibly thought that only deadly force would be used to repel, you can argue imperfect defense. The defense will apply if at least one of the beliefs was unreasonable. Remember that using imperfect defense can only act as a mitigating factor to lower the charges from murder to voluntary manslaughter.

Your defense lawyer could argue insanity if at all, you didn’t understand the nature of the actions you did or when you are in a mental state that cannot differentiate between what is right or wrong. However, for you to use this defense, your lawyer must understand the M’Naghten test’s rules.

Remember that when proving you committed voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution must show that you had the intent to take life. So, if the events that led you to take another person’s life were accidental, the court will find you innocent. However, the defense can only be applied if you lacked criminal intent to cause harm. You were not acting negligently when the accident occurred, or you were taking part in lawful conduct when the accident happened.

During murder charges, you can choose voluntary manslaughter in a plea bargain because it carries fewer charges than murder.

Involuntary Manslaughter

California PC 192b outlines involuntary murder as the unintentional taking of life during the commission of an offense that is not essentially a felony or legal conduct that is dangerous and may result in loss of life. The key element of involuntary manslaughter is that it doesn’t require intent to take life, unlike murder, which requires malice aforethought. Note that PC 192b doesn’t fit the above description if a vehicle is involved, and it’s often a lesser charge than voluntary manslaughter or murder.

  1. Elements of Involuntary Manslaughter

There are three key aspects of involuntary manslaughter that a prosecutor must prove for you to end up with a conviction. These elements are:

  • You illegally engaged in legal conduct, or you committed any criminal act that is not inherently a felony.

  • You committed the offense or were involved in criminal negligence.

  • Your actions led to you taking the life of another human being.

Committing an offense that is not a felony means engaging in wrongful conduct that is:

  • An infraction

  • Misdemeanor

  • Lawful but executed unlawfully

  • A felony that is not well-thought-out as dangerous

Note that if you take someone else’s life when committing a naturally dangerous felony, the court will charge you with murder instead of involuntary manslaughter.

Another aspect of this crime, the prosecutor must prove, is that your conduct was beyond inattention, standard carelessness, or error in judgment, which amounts to criminal negligence. The lawyer must establish that your actions were of a careless fashion, and they increased the risk of harming or causing death. An ordinarily careful individual would know such actions would create the kind of risk in question.

Lastly, the prosecutor must show that the death of another person was natural, direct, or as a probable ramification of your actions and that the life would not have occurred were it not for your conduct. A reasonable person would have known that a person was likely to lose life because of such action.

  1. Lawful Duty Involuntary Manslaughter

The legal definition of involuntary manslaughter changes where your failure to perform lawful duties results in the loss of life. Under this different involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must establish the following facts:

  • You had a legal duty to the person who lost his or her life

  • You failed to perform the duty as stipulated

  • The failure to perform legal duties was criminal negligence

  • Your failure to engage in legal duties was the cause of the alleged victim’s demise

Whether or not you owed the alleged victim, a lawful duty is left for the judge and not the jury to decide. Relationships that might result in a legal obligation include:

  • A bond between two individuals where one of the individuals is presumed to be taking care of the other.

  • Parent-child relationship

  • A relationship between a paid caregiver and the person they are paid to take care of

If you and the deceased had any of the above relationships, the judge would conclude that you had a lawful obligation towards the said party.

  1. Consequences of Involuntary Manslaughter

Penal Code 192b is filed as a felony. Upon sentencing, you will be subject to:

  • Formal probation

  • Twenty-four, thirty-six or forty-eight months in jail

  • Court fines not more than 10,000 dollars

Remember that the surviving family members of the deceased could still hold you civilly liable for the death of a loved one. If they win the case, you may be subject to harsh civil consequences.

Besides, if you used a gun to take the life of a human being, you will get a strike on your record according to the Three Strikes Law.

As per California's realignment legislation, upon sentencing for involuntary manslaughter, you will serve your jail sentence instead of prison. Keep in mind that the realignment legislation was enacted in 2011. It changed the sentencing structure of over 500 crimes in California, by allowing those who end up with a conviction to serve jail instead of a prison sentence.

Before the passing of Assembly Bill 109, people found guilty of involuntary manslaughter were sentenced to prison instead of jail. This is regardless of whether the crime is registered as a felony. The duration of the sentence, however, didn’t change.

Under the same PC 1170h, a person serving a jail sentence can serve part of the sentence in jail and then be released on probation, where they serve the remaining sentence under the watch of a probations officer.

On top of incarceration and court fines, you might lose other privileges upon conviction for involuntary manslaughter. One of the additional consequences is losing your right to possess or own a firearm. You get this additional penalty because California law requires that every person found guilty of a dangerous felony should have their rights to gun ownership or possession withdrawn. And in this case, because involuntary manslaughter is a felony, a sentence for the crime will result in loss of gun ownership rights.

If you hold any professional license issued by the state, you might end up losing it too.

  1. Potential Legal Defenses for Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

If a human being losses life under wary circumstances, the prosecuting lawyer and investigative agencies will conduct their investigation to find the person responsible. The need to investigate and close the case fast might lead to shoddy investigations where a person is charged with involuntary manslaughter without sufficient evidence.

Fortunately, if you find yourself in such a situation, there are multiple legal defenses your lawyer can apply to contest the charges. Because all involuntary manslaughter involves accidental circumstances, your lawyer can argue that you took the alleged victim’s life by accident. In case you were not committing an unlawful act or acting with criminal negligence, the defense will hold in court. However, for that to happen, you must establish that:

  • You lacked criminal intent to harm the alleged victim.

  • You were performing a lawful act when the unfortunate disaster struck.

  • You lacked criminal negligence when the accident that led to death occurred.

Because cases of involuntary manslaughter often look simple, police officers rush their investigations as the person responsible for the death is concerned. They present the report to the prosecutor, who agrees to take up the case because he or she believes the side of the story of the officers. Cases like these are the reason you should retain the services of the Orange County Criminal Lawyer.

A proficient lawyer understands that police might make haste decisions when it comes to these cases, and lack sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable certainty that you committed the crime. For this reason, you need a lawyer willing to invest time and resources to conduct an independent investigation to uncover what truly transpired, leading to the demise of the alleged victim.

Your defense lawyer could also assert that you are facing false accusations or acting to defend yourself or another person.

Vehicular Manslaughter

California PC 192C defines vehicular manslaughter as taking the life of another human being while operating a vehicle. The offense is different from other types of manslaughter discussed above because it involves a vehicle. The penalties of PC 192c violation rest on your conduct.

Vehicular Manslaughter with Gross Negligence

Penal Code 192(C) (1) is the code section that outlines vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. For the prosecuting party to prove that you are guilty of this offense, they must prove the following elements:

  • You engaged in an illegal act or a legal act in an illegal fashion while operating a car, resulting in death.

  • Based on the circumstances, the act was a threat to human life.

  • Your actions at the time were grossly negligent.

  • Your actions took the life of another human being.

In this case, gross negligence means acting in a manner that increases the threat of causing serious bodily harm or death such that an ordinarily careful person would have known that actions like those would have led to the loss of life.

PC 192 (C)(1) is a wobbler, and the consequences upon sentencing depend on the nature of the case. When charged with a misdemeanor, upon sentencing, you will be subject to informal probation, no more than one-year jail incarceration, or a maximum court fine of $1000. A felony conviction, on the other hand, attracts consequences as follows:

  • Felony probation

  • 24, 48, or 72 months of prison incarceration

Upon sentencing, the Department of Motor Vehicle will revoke your driver’s license for a minimum of thirty-six months regardless of whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor conviction.

Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

Ordinary or misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, as per PC 192 (C)(2), occurs when you are behind the wheel and commit a misdemeanor or infraction that causes the demise of another human being. Ordinary negligence is a lack of sensible care to avert likely harm. Not acting or failing to engage in an act that a sensible person would not have engaged in under the circumstances is ordinary negligence. The elements the prosecutor must establish under this section include:

  • While you were driving a vehicle, you committed an infraction, misdemeanor, or performed a lawful act unlawfully.

  • The conduct posed a danger to human life at the time.

  • You took part in the act with ordinary negligence.

  • Your actions led to the loss of life.

If you end up with a sentence under this Code Section, you will face no more than 12 months in jail, misdemeanor probation, or court fines not exceeding $1000.

Take note that when vehicular manslaughter occurs while you are DUI of drugs or alcohol, it becomes a distinct crime. The prosecutor must prove that when you caused death at the time of driving:

  • You were drunk or drugged.

  • Your BAC was .08% or more.

Vehicular manslaughter while drunk or drugged and with ordinary negligence is a wobbler. A misdemeanor sentence could have you serve twelve months in jail or court fines and penalty assessment fees of $1000. A felony sentence, on the other hand, carries sixteen, twenty-four, or thirty-six months in prison.

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

PC 192(C)(3) defines vehicular manslaughter for financial gain. As per the statute, it is illegal to:

  • Knowingly cause or participate in a collision while behind the wheel

  • You do so with the intent to make a false insurance claim

  • Your actions are motivated by the intent to defraud an insurer or someone else

  • The collision results in loss of life by another human being

The offense is a felony that carries court fines no more than ten thousand dollars or prison incarceration for four, six, or ten years.

Defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter

The skills of your criminal defense lawyer and prosecution’s evidence are what determine if these charges will be removed or reduced. Even though these cases might appear hopeless and the prosecutor might make you feel that way, there is always hope if you enlist the services of an experienced criminal lawyer.

Your lawyer could argue that your conduct was not in any way negligent. This defense strategy is commonly used because proving negligence is highly subjective. It will be your word against that of the prosecutor.

Also, because in a car accident, the victim or a third party may be liable, you can argue that the alleged victim’s death didn’t occur because of your negligence. Instead, it was another person’s fault. However, you must establish that the party’s negligence was the substantial factor leading to the death.

Because for vehicular manslaughter to happen, you must be driving, you can argue that you were not driving when the accident happened.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Manslaughter is one of the many violent crimes you can be charged with in California. The crime attracts life-changing penalties, which is why you should avoid harsh penalties by contacting an experienced defense attorney. We invite you to reach out to Orange County. Criminal Lawyer at 714-262-4833 if you are facing manslaughter charges. Our defense lawyers are available to discuss your case and come up with the right legal defenses to protect your freedom and rights.