In California, manslaughter is taken as a serious crime and it carries severe punishments. Although most people confuse manslaughter for murder, they are not the same. For you to be convicted of murder, there must be proof that you had malicious intentions to cause the death of another person while manslaughter is killing another human being unlawfully but without malice. Under California law, there are three different types of manslaughter namely:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Vehicular manslaughter
- Involuntary manslaughter
In most cases, manslaughter is charged as a felony and its punishment includes hefty fines and lengthy sentencing. The consequences are very serious and can affect your career, relationships, and life in general.
If you have been charged with manslaughter, it is important to seek help from an experienced attorney to ensure you get the best possible results for your case. An experienced manslaughter attorney from the Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can help you fight for justice in the best way possible and offer substantial advice.
Under CA penal code 192 (a), voluntary manslaughter is defined as “ unlawfully killing someone else upon a quarrel or heat of passion.” For you to be convicted for manslaughter, there must be proof that you did not have the intent to kill in the first place. For example, John goes for work in the morning and comes back home earlier than usual only to find his wife having an affair with another man. Out of anger, John beats the man to death.
How to Establish a Voluntary Manslaughter Case
For you to be convicted of voluntary manslaughter under California PC 192(a), the prosecution must beyond reasonable doubt prove that:
- You were provoked
- You acted with impaired reasoning and judgment due to the provocation
- Any normal person would have acted the same if put in the same situation.
- There was no enough time to calm down between the provocation and the killing.
Note that insulting words or gestures are not enough provocations to reduce a murder charge to manslaughter.
Voluntary Manslaughter Penalties
The sentencing for voluntary manslaughter is not always the same depending on various factors like your criminal history, jurisdiction, and factors revolving around the case but in most cases, manslaughter results in prison time or hefty fines. In California, the common penalty for manslaughter include:
- 11,6, or 3 years in state prison
- Fines of up to $10,000
- Community service
- You lose the right to own a weapon/firearm
- Mandatory counseling
- Strike on your CA three strikes law and this can aggravate your penalties if there is a strike in your previous criminal record.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
In most cases, when the judge is about to determine the sentencing for a manslaughter conviction, he/she will consider the aggravating and mitigating factors.
Not that aggravating factors may raise the severity of the sentencing. Some of the aggravating factors include:
- Vulnerability of the victim
- Your criminal record
- The brutality of the crime
On the other hand, mitigating factors reduce the severity of the sentencing. These factors mainly show that you as the defendant do not pose any risk to society. These factors may include:
- Mental capability
- If you took full responsibility for the crime’
- Criminal history
According to the California statute, any crime involving minor victims is considered aggravated.
Possible Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter
The main element to voluntary manslaughter is whether you, as the defendant acted out of provocation. You can reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter with the defense of provocation.
For example, from the example used earlier in the fourth paragraph, the defendant must prove that the actions of their spouse provoked them, and they became so enraged and attacked the third party. There are also other factors that the judge will consider when the defendant uses the defense of provocation. These factors include:
- The time frame between the provocation and the killing
- Whether the time frame was enough for an ordinary person to calm down
- Whether a normal/reasonable person would have acted the same if put in a similar situation.
For instance, if it is proven that a reasonable person would not have calmed down within the time frame under the same scenario, the judge may rule in the defendant’s favor using the provocation defense at the trial.
It is important to note that there is no specific time or set time that one must take to calm down. Every case is ruled differently, and the court looks at the factors surrounding the case and the evidence provided to decide on whether the time frame was enough to cool down or not.
You can also use the accident defense to reduce your charges. If you killed someone by accident, you are not guilty of manslaughter. According to California law, you kill by accident if:
- You did not have the intent to kill the other person.
- At the time of the accident, you did not engage in any unlawful behavior.
- At the time of the accident, you were not engaging in any dangerous act or acting negligently without taking caution.
There are also other defenses like self-defense. If the defendant killed another person, but they were the initial aggressor of the incident that led to the killing, the court could reduce the murder to voluntary manslaughter. Note that according to self-defense laws in California, you are allowed to take possible but reasonable actions to protect yourself from harm. But in this defense, specific details have to be examined closely.
Insanity is also a defense that insane defendants use to reduce their charges. In California, the insanity defense excuses any criminal conduct if the defendant has a mental illness; that is, they Prevented them from distinguishing between right or wrong or knowing the severity of their actions. But this type of defense must be accompanied by medical proof showing that the defendant has an impairment or mental illness affecting their thinking.
Involuntary manslaughter is defined under CA penal code 192(B) as killing someone unintentionally while committing a crime that is not harmful, like a felony or a lawful action that may result in death. Unlike murder, involuntary manslaughter does not include the intent to kill another person. Under California law, involuntary manslaughter does not involve actions related to the above description but involves a vehicle.
The elements of involuntary manslaughter include:
- You committed a misdemeanor, a crime that is not dangerous or a legal activity done in an illegal way
- You acted with criminal negligence and
- Your acts resulted in the death of a person.
Here are a few examples to better explain involuntary manslaughter:
- John steals a motorcycle he found outside a supermarket ( going against CA penal code 484 petty theft). While he is trying to escape, he hits a pedestrian, and the pedestrian ends up dying.
- Jane and her husband are fighting, and Jane points a gun at her husband and threatens to shoot him (violating CA penal code 417, brandishing a weapon). Accidentally, the gun fires and kills her husband.
- A hotel manager forces a pregnant worker to work in the kitchen for a double shift. The pregnant woman collapses and dies due to heatstroke.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties
According to California law, involuntary manslaughter is charged as a felony and the possible punishments include:
- Fines of up to $10,000, or
- 2,3, OR 4 years in jail OR
In most cases, involuntary manslaughter can trigger a legal lawsuit by the victim’s family. If these proceed, the defendant is likely to face substantial civil judgments.
Note that if you kill someone accidentally with a dangerous weapon like a firearm and charged with involuntary manslaughter, the conviction is added to a strike under the CA three-strike law.
Possible Defenses for Involuntary Manslaughter
There are various defenses that an experienced criminal defense attorney can present in court to have your charges reduced. These defenses include:
- Self-defense or you acted in defense of other innocent people — this defense applies when:
- You did not use excessive force to defend against danger. You only used reasonable force.
- You believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend yourself or others, and you had enough reasons to believe that.
- You believed reasonably that either you or another person was in danger and risked being killed or being sexually harassed, robed, maimed, or suffer bodily injuries.
If you and your attorney can prove those facts, you cannot be convicted for involuntary manslaughter.
- The killing occurred as an accident — Somehow, all involuntary manslaughter cases happen as an accident because they mainly involve circumstances that the defendant had no intent to kill the victim.
The accident defense only works if the defendant was not involved in any illegal activity and was not acting with criminal negligence. The defendant must therefore prove that:
- They had no intent to involve in any criminal activity or harm.
- At the time of the killing, he/she was not acting with criminal negligence
- At the time of the accident, they were engaged in a lawful activity.
- There is no enough evidence to convict you — Sometimes in involuntary manslaughter, police make a quick decision regarding the killing and hand over the case to the prosecutor without doing any further investigations. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help you use this defense and have your charges reduced or dropped completely. An experienced attorney will take his/her time to do deep investigations, use forensic Scientists interview witnesses and do extra consultations to find out the events during the killing.
- You were accused or arrested falsely — Involuntary manslaughter accusations often happen. Sometimes the victim’s family may want to minimize the chances of the victim being involved in their death and, in turn, accuse someone else. Someone is also likely to charge a person they want to take revenge against.
In either case, having a skilled and experienced criminal defense lawyer can be helpful while fighting charges of involuntary manslaughter.
According to California law, various criminal offenses are related to involuntary manslaughter. These crimes include:
- Murder — CA penal code 187
- Voluntary manslaughter — CA penal code 192 (a)
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated — CA 191.5
- Vehicular manslaughter — CA penal code 192(C)
Under CA penal code 192 (c), vehicular manslaughter is defined as killing someone while driving while committing an illegal act or a legal act that could result in death. In short, the defendant killed a person while. Note that you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter even if the killing happened because of distracted driving.
For instance, if you do not observe the traffic lights and collide with another driver, the other driver dies. In California, vehicular manslaughter is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor depending on factors revolving around the incident. Ordinary negligence has different consequences from gross negligence.
Gross Negligence VS. Ordinary Negligence
Gross negligence means you were grossly negligent, and your actions were recklessly resulting in a situation that led to great bodily harm or death. A person reasoning would have known that the actions would pose a significant risk to others. On the other hand, ordinary negligence is not reasonable enough to prevent risky foreseeable actions that are likely to cause harm to another person. You are negligent if you acted differently from how a reasonable person would if put in the same situation.
The prosecutor is likely to argue that you acted with gross negligence if you were intoxicated, overspeeding, ignored the road signs and crashed with another car, or fell asleep while driving.
If you are charged with ordinary negligence, it is considered a misdemeanor, but gross negligence is mainly charged as a felony.
The Elements of Vehicular Manslaughter
For you to be convicted for vehicular manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove that:
- You were physically operating a car at the time of the accident
- Your actions while driving the vehicle could cause the death of another person
- Your negligent acts led to the death of another person.
The main element of proving vehicular manslaughter is determining gross or ordinary negligence.
Penalties of Vehicular Manslaughter
As stated above, penalties vary with the type of vehicular manslaughter you have been convicted of, but if you are convicted of a felony, you are likely to spend 2,4 or 6 years in prison or pay a $10,000 fine.
If you have been charged with vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, it is charged as a felony, and you could spend up to 10 years in state prison or pay fines of up to $10,000. You can also be charged with a hit and run charge under CA vehicle code 20001 if you fled from the crime scene, which could lead to 5 more years of imprisonment.
If you are also charged with vehicular manslaughter for financial gain or gross negligence, your license may be revoked, and you may not be able to reinstate it for three years.
Possible defenses for Vehicular Manslaughter
A skilled criminal defense attorney can come up with legal defenses and present them against vehicular manslaughter charges. Some of the common reasons are:
- You did not act negligently – An experienced attorney can help you prove that your conduct was not negligent. Though at times, it can be challenging to prove the legal definitions. If you were driving on a busy street and a passenger suddenly crosses the road leading you to collide, and they end up dying.
- The victim’s death was not a result of your negligence – It can sometimes be hard for the prosecutor to tell what happened in vehicular manslaughter cases. For instance, if the prosecutor proves that you drove negligently and another person died, a skilled Attorney Can argue that another party’s negligence led to the death. You can also use witnesses in this case.
There are specific laws in California that may be charged instead of CA penal code 192(c) o along with vehicular manslaughter. They are:
- Gross vehicular manslaughter — CA penal code 191.5 (A)
- Murder DUI manslaughter — CA penal code 187 (Watson murder)
- Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated — CA penal code 191.5(A)
Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
Under CA penal code 191.5 (B), vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is defined as driving recklessly under the influence of drugs or alcohol and cause an accident that results in the death of another person. In other words, if your DUI caused death, you will be charged under CA penal code 191.5.
There are two different versions of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. CA penal code 191.5 (A) means you acted with gross negligence, which means you were more careless. CA penal code 191.5 (B) means you were driving carelessly or negligently.
Let’s take a closer look at CA penal code 191.5(B). If you are driving with a BAC of 0.8% or more, and at the same time you are using your cell phone, which is not a hand free device, and since you are on the phone, you fail to notice a pedestrian crossing the road and hit him causing their death, you will be charged for violating CA penal code 191.5 (b). Another example, your friend is having a party at their house where you use methamphetamine, and you get so intoxicated. On your way home, you over speed and cause a head-on collision with another vehicle, and the other driver dies.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated is charged as a wobbler under California law which means the judge can either decide to charge it as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the case’s factors. If charged with a misdemeanor, you will spend up to one year in county jail, but if you are e charged with a felony, you will spend up to 4 years in state prison.
Elements of Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
For you to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, the prosecutor must beyond reasonable doubt prove that:
- You were physically operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- While you were operating the vehicle, you committed an infraction, a misdemeanor crime, or an illegal act that could lead to the death of another person.
- Your negligence is what resulted in the misdemeanor crime.
- You caused the death of another person illegally.
In simple terms, these elements mean that the reason another person died was that you violated the traffic law. Apart from driving under the influence of drugs, you acted without negligence.
Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated
DUI vehicular manslaughter can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony depending o various factors like your criminal history. If you are charged with a misdemeanor for DUI vehicular manslaughter, with ordinary negligence, you are likely to face:
- Summary probation
- One year in county jail
- Fines of up to $1,000
- Restitution to the victim’s family.
If you are charged with DUI vehicular manslaughter as a felony, you are likely to face:
- Fines of up to $10,000
- 1 ½ year, two years, or four years in state prison
- Formal probation
- Restitution to the victim’s family
- Additional 3 to 6 years if other people sustained severe injuries
- Your driving license is suspended for one year.
Note that these penalties are charged additionally to other DUI penalties like license suspension, drug or alcohol treatment, and mandatory DUI sessions.
At times, DUI vehicular manslaughter could be charged alongside the following crimes:
- Vehicular manslaughter — CA penal code 192 (C)
- Gross vehicular manslaughter — CA penal code 191.5 (a)
- Murder DUI murder — CA penal code 187 (Watson murder)
The possible defenses include:
- You were not under the influence AND
- You did not act negligently.
Find an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you have been charged with any kind of manslaughter in Riverside, CA, it is essential to get legal counsel as soon as possible. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we provide comprehensive representation to ensure that you receive the justice you deserve. Our experienced and dedicated attorneys will navigate your case and develop the best defenses that are likely to work in your favor. Contact us today at to book your appointment.