In California, involuntary manslaughter is a serious offense that carries hefty charges and penalties. If found guilty, a conviction could compromise your personal and career lives. You need a skillful and experienced attorney to help defend you and possibly avoid a conviction.
If you are arrested or know someone who faces charges for involuntary manslaughter in Orange County, contact the Orange County Criminal Lawyer Firm. Our capable attorneys will vigorously defend you to ensure you achieve a favorable outcome.
Involuntary Manslaughter as Defined by California Laws
Unlike murder, manslaughter is an unlawful killing without malice aforethought. There are two categories of manslaughter, including involuntary and voluntary. Voluntary manslaughter involves killing in the heat of passion. Voluntary mansaluhter is similar to murder only that in this case there is provocation.
On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter occurs due to either a negligent act or a high risk of personal injury. Section 192(b) of the California Penal Code defines involuntary manslaughter as the killing of another person without aforethought or when committing a crime. Involuntary manslaughter is different from murder and vehicular manslaughter. There must be “intent” for a crime to be considered murder. In vehicular manslaughter, one must be driving a motor vehicle to commit the crime. Examples of wrongful acts include:
- An infraction or a low-level crime
- A crime which is considered a misdemeanor according to California law
- A crime that is charged as a felony, but it is not inherently dangerous.
- An unlawful action
The Arrest Process after Committing Involuntary Manslaughter
Arresting a person involves taking them into custody and denying them freedom of movement. There are certain instances where the police can arrest you for involuntary manslaughter. These instances are:
- When they have enough evidence to show you killed the victim. The police could seek an arrest warrant from a judge. The evidence, in this case, could be either your DNA, fingerprints, or blood samples collected from the scene of the crime.
- When a police officer witnesses you killing the victim, they will arrest you.
- When you surrender yourself to the police station and confess to killing a person. The police can detain you instead of arresting you. Detainment occurs when the police hold you for questioning.
When the police arrest you, they are mandated by law to inform you of your constitutional rights. The police, however, don't necessarily inform you of these rights during the arrest. Some do it before an interrogation either at the station or any other place as long as you are in their custody. Your rights still apply even when you are detained. These rights are called Miranda rights and are based on the fifth amendment’s rights against self-incrimination.
Miranda rights include:
- The Right Not to Spea You don’t have to speak to the arresting officer or the interrogating officer if you don’t want to. The police may attempt to question you about the circumstance that led you to kill the victim. It is important not to answer even though you may want to explain yourself.
- If You Choose To Speak, Your Statements Will Be Used as Evidence in Court. If you insist on speaking to the officer even after the Miranda warning, the officer can keep your statements, and the prosecutor will use it as evidence in court.
- Right to an Attorney. You have the right to legal representation irrespective of the crime you have committed. If the officer questions you, you can tell them that you won't speak without your attorney.
- If You Can’t Afford an Attorney, One Will Be Provided. It is your right to have an attorney, but in some instances, you may not afford one because of the cost. In such a case, the government will hire one for you.
If the police fail to read your rights, whether during the arrest or before interrogation, the prosecutor will not use what you say as evidence in court. If he/she does, your defense attorney can argue against that. If the police coerce you to speak concerning the crime, that piece of evidence will not be admissible. Also, any evidence obtained as a result of the interrogation will be inadmissible.
Remember, police don't need a warrant to arrest you even when they have not seen you committing an offense. They will only arrest you when they know you can either destroy or tamper with the evidence or flee.
Once the police have you in their custody, they will write a detailed report of the crime and submit it to the prosecutor. The arrest report usually contains the following:
- The general overview of the circumstance that led you to kill the victim.
- A detailed statement about involuntary manslaughter.
- The testimonies that are given by all the witnesses of the crime, especially corroborating witnesses.
The prosecutor will then examine the report and evidence then determine whether the evidence is enough to charge you.
The court process is an important part of the criminal justice process.
When the prosecutor has enough evidence to charge you for involuntary manslaughter, you will be taken to court for arraignment, which is the first stage of the court process. It is your right to be arraigned as soon as possible. In California, the arraignment of suspects takes place within two court days. By this time, a government-appointed attorney would have been assigned to your case if you couldn’t afford one. If you also don’t understand English, the law dictates that you be assigned an interpreter throughout the court process.
You will stand before a judge during the arraignment, and in turn, he/she will read all the charges brought against you. The judge will then ask you to make a plea. There are three types of please you can enter, including not guilty, guilty, and no contest. Your attorney should guide you on the consequences of each plea before you make one.
If you plead guilty, you will be taken back to custody and wait for the specific day of sentencing. If you take a not guilty plea, you will proceed to the next stage. Your bail is also addressed during the arraignment stage. The judge may choose to either award or deny you bail, depending on the facts of your case.
During pretrial proceedings, a lot of things happen. First, your attorney and the prosecutor will be building their arguments by collecting more pieces of evidence, checking police reports, including reaching out to and interviewing witnesses. Your attorney might also file motions about the admissibility of certain evidence from the prosecution
Your attorney can challenge any evidence that might not have been legally collected. These include evidence collected through unauthorized wiretapping, illegal searches, or interrogations. It is also at this point that your case could be settled. You may agree with the prosecutor and have the case settled instead of proceeding to trial.
Pretrial proceedings also include jury selection. Together with the prosecutor and your defense attorney, the judge will ask the jurors questions to determine whether they qualify to unbiasedly serve on the jury.
There are two types of trials in California; Jury trial and court trial. Both trials are similar only that in a jury trial, jurors of your peers are selected to decide the outcome. During an involuntary manslaughter trial, the prosecutor will present evidence proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. Your defense attorney will then present evidence challenging the prosecution’s case.
The jury will take a break to decide if you are guilty based on the evidence presented. If the jury finds you not guilty, you will be released. But if guilty, you will be taken back into custody awaiting sentencing.
Sentencing occurs a few days after the main trial after the jury has found you guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The judge will then decide on what type of punishment to impose depending on several factors such as your prior convictions. If this is your first offense, you may get two or three years in prison. However, if you have other convictions,you will receive a harsher punishment.
You have the right to appeal if you are found guilty of involuntary manslaughter according to the constitution. With your attorney’s help, you can take your case to a higher court for it to review your case. Appeals usually happen when you feel there were errors in how your case was handled. The appellate court may either order a new trial or release you, depending on the case’s facts.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove
You will be presumed innocent until proven guilty if you have been arrested since the prosecution bears the burden of proof. Unlike in murder, the prosecutor does not need to prove that you had the intent to commit involuntary manslaughter. Here are the elements that the prosecutor must show in court that the crime is indeed involuntary manslaughter:
You Acted in an Unlawful Manner
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as killing someone in the process of committing an offense. If you were in a bar fight and the person you were fighting with dies, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The prosecutor must also prove that you acted with criminal negligence. Negligence is proven when you would have known the actions had serious consequences but still chose to act in such a manner. If you hit the victim with an object to stop them from hurting you or calling for help, then that’s criminal negligence.
The Actions Resulted in the Death of the Victim
The prosecutor should show that your actions killed the person. The evidence should be enough to show that the victim died because of your actions. If the victims survive an act, then you won't be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
If you neglected your duty that is owed to others, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. As a doctor, if you fail to treat a critically ill patient who later dies, you will be charged. In such a case, the prosecutor must show the following:
Duty of Care
The prosecutor must show you had a duty of care towards the victim which you failed to act on. A duty of care exists in many professions according to the law.
You Failed to Honor the Legal Duty
The prosecutor must show that even though you had the duty of care towards the victim’s safety, you failed to uphold it.There must be sufficient evidence that you breached the duty. There are certain elements the prosecutor must show to proof you breached the duty. These elements are:
- The prosecutor should show how a competent person would have acted in the situation you were in.
- The prosecutor should show that you acted in ways not permitted by your profession’s governing body. For instance the Medical Board of California
If you are a doctor and you fail to treat your patient for any reason, and he/she dies, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
There must be criminal negligence in your actions. If you knew that refusing to help someone would result in death, then that is negligence. Criminal negligence is more than acts of carelessness. It involves any actions that are considered high risk, capable of resulting in an injury or even death. You, as a person, are capable of understanding that the actions had dire consequences.
The Actions Resulted in the Victim’s Death
The prosecutor must also show that the actions you were obligated to carry out but failed to do so led to the victim’s death.
Possible Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter
When you are charged with involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor will prove the elements of the crime occurred. However, your defense attorney could cast doubt against the evidence by using the following defenses:
The Act Was an Accident
Your attorney can argue that you did not mean to kill the victim though you committed the act. The act was not based on criminal negligence. The attorney can show that you acted lawfully, but the act resulted in the victim’s death. For your attorney to show the act was an accident, he will provide evidence showing:
- There was no intent to do the crime
- There was no criminal negligence
- You were committing a lawful act when the accident happened.
You Acted in Self-Defense
Your attorney could also argue that you committed the act in self-defense. There are self-defense laws in California that allow killing a person only if they pose a serious danger to you or someone else. This defense requires that the defense shows that”
- You moved swiftly to prevent a dangerous act
- Your actions were rational
- You used reasonable force when defending yourself
The Evidence is Insufficient
Your defense attorney can also show that the prosecutor has no enough evidence to charge or convict you. Sometimes the police may arrest you thinking the case is straightforward. The prosecutor can also do the same without really checking the facts of the case. If that is the case, file a motion to dismiss the case.
The attorney could also argue that you were falsely accused of the crimes against you. Sometimes friends or family members of the victim may make wrong accusations all in the name of bringing justice to their loved one’s death. Your attorney could show that the witness testimony or evidence is not true.
Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is charged as a felony, according to California Penal Code Section 192(b). If you are convicted, you serve a jail term of two, three, or four years in state prison. Also, you could pay a $10,000 fine, according to PC 672. In 2011, there was realignment legislation, allowing convicted persons to serve their sentences in jail instead of state prison.
The legislation which is listed in Assembly Bill (AB) 109 allows offenders from over 500 offenses to have the option of serving their sentence in jail instead of prison. So, according to California Penal Code 1170(h), you can serve either two, three, or four years in a county jail irrespective of whether the involuntary manslaughter is charged as a felony. Still, under 1170(h), you can be allowed to serve part of your jail term in county jail, and the remainder part supervised by a probation officer under mandatory supervision.
Besides receiving punitive actions, the victim's family may also choose to sue you under the California Code of Civil Procedure 377.60-377.62. Since the facts surrounding the killing of a person involuntary are viewed as wrongful death, you may have to pay a huge sum of money as compensation to the family if you are found guilty.
You may lose certain privileges if you are convicted of involuntary manslaughter. You will not have the right to own or use a weapon. Penal code 12021 states that if you receive an involuntary manslaughter conviction and go ahead and own, purchase, or use a weapon, you will be charged with another felony offense. If you already have a weapon but receive a conviction, the state will take away your rights to own and use it.
Here are the crimes that are related to involuntary manslaughter:
Homicide is a serious offense defined under California penal code 187 as killing a person with malice or aforethought. The crime is distinguished from involuntary manslaughter with intent. You could be charged with the different types of homicide, which range from murder to capital murder, depending on the charges before you. Homicide is a felony, which carries a minimum of 15 years. However, the penalties for capital murder are life in prison or a death sentence.
Voluntary manslaughter is defined under Penal Code 192 PC as killing another person in the heat of the moment. Voluntary manslaughter is the deliberate killing of another person, but unlike homicide, there is an absence of premeditation. Certain elements must exist for the crime to be voluntary manslaughter, including
- You intended to kill the person
- You impulsively killed the person because of how he provoked you.
Voluntary manslaughter is charged as a felony. You will serve a sentence of up to 11 years in state prison. Voluntary manslaughter counts as a three-strikes law in California. Three strikes mean that if you had previously been charged and convicted of a felony, you would serve a sentence of twice the amount of jail term when convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
Vehicular manslaughter is similar to involuntary manslaughter only that, in this case, the action needs a motor vehicle for the crime to occur. According to California penal code PC 192c, vehicular manslaughter is killing another person when driving a motor vehicle or causing another person’s death when committing either a lawful or unlawful act. The law specifies that the unlawful act should not be a felony. The crime is charged as a wobbler offense depending on the facts of your case. Meaning, the crimes are charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
DUI murder, also known as Watson Murder, is charged as a second-degree murder under California penal code section 187. The Watson murder is committed when a drunk person with a previous DUI conviction kills another person while driving. Most DUI offenses come with Watson Admonition, which is simply a warning. If you commit the offense even after the Watson admonition, you will be charged with murder.
Find a Criminal Lawyer Near Me
Facing charges for involuntary manslaughter is devastating. Besides the serious charges and penalties, you could lose some privileges. California is very strict concerning violent crimes that cause death. You need a skilled criminal attorney to avoid the harsh penalties that come with involuntary manslaughter charges. At Orange County Criminal Lawyer, we understand the seriousness of involuntary manslaughter charges, so we will meticulously defend you. Call us at 714-262-4833 if you or your loved one face arrest or charges.
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