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California Penal Code 192b PC

Involuntary Manslaughter

California’s Penal Code 192b PC defines involuntary manslaughter as the unintentional killing of a human being that occurs during a non-felony crime or in the commission of a lawful act that was conducted in a reckless manner. Involuntary manslaughter differs from murder in that it happens without intent, malice, or pre-deliberation. In California it is considered less culpable and it is the lowest category of murder. 

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Involuntary Manslaughter

Law Guideline

  • Legal definition of involuntary manslaughter 
  • How does the prosecutor prove the crime? 
      1. Criminal Negligence
      2. Legal Duty 
      3. Constructive manslaughter 
  • Legal defenses to PC 129b
  • Penalties and Sentencing 
  • Related offenses to Involuntary Manslaughter
Legal Definition of

Involuntary Manslaughter under PC 192b

California Penal Code 192b PC is the law that defines involuntary manslaughter. This crime occurs when one person unintentionally kills another person. The crime of involuntary manslaughter can occur one of two ways: 

  1. While committing an unlawful act that is not a felony, such as a misdemeanor crime. 
  2. During the commission of a lawful act in a reckless or negligent manner that could result in death. 

Note, California’s involuntary manslaughter law is distinguished from other forms of homicide, as it does not require for the defendant to have the intent to kill another person, such as Penal Code 187 PC murder [web link], that requires premeditation, deliberation, or malice. 

This subdivision does not include the actions listed above that occur in a vehicle. It is separate crime that will be charged under vehicular manslaughter law Penal Code 192( c ) PC.

Involuntary Manslaughter examples 

  1. Greg is hanging out with his friends and is excited to show everyone his new gun that his big brother gave him. Greg’s friends gather around him, and he starts playing with the gun just how he has seen his big brother do so in the past. As he waves it around, the weapon accidentally fires and strikes his friend in the face—killing him.  
  2. After a night of partying, Mike is too drunk to go outside to smoke as he usually does. Instead, he light ups in his room. Mike falls asleep and the lit cigarette slips out of his fingers and lands on the floor. 

The cigarette ignites a fire in the house, and he runs out of the room only to find out that his roommates have died in the fire. 

How does the prosecutor

Prove the Crime?

Section 129 of the Penal Code (“PC 192”) sets out the elements of Involuntary Manslaughter under California Law. To prove someone guilty of involuntary manslaughter the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: 

  1. The defendant committed a crime or lawful act in an unlawful manner
  2. The defendant committed the crime or act with criminal negligence
  3. The defendant’s acts caused the death of another person
Proving Involuntary manslaughter based on failure to perform legal duty:

Involuntary manslaughter based on legal duty has a slightly different legal definition. In these types of cases, whether someone has legal duty is decided by a judge, not a jury. If the defendant has legal duty over the victim, he or she has the legal obligation to care for, help, rescue, warn, or maintain the property of the victim. Some examples of relationships where a legal duty arises are:

  • Parent-child relationship 
  • Spouse-spouse relationship 
  • Employer-employee
  • Paid caretaker relationship
  • Any relationship where there is “assumed responsibility” for the other 

In order to involuntary manslaughter based on failure to perform legal duty, Penal Code 192b PC boils down to four elements of proof that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt: 

1. The defendant had a legal duty to the victim 

2. The defendant failed to perform said legal duty

3. The defendant’s failure was criminally negligent 

AND

4. The defendant’s failure caused the death of the victim  

Proving Criminal negligence:

To be convicted of criminal negligence, it involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with criminal negligence when: 

 

1. He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury.

AND

2. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk. 

 

Essentially, a person acts with criminal negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from the way an ordinary careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act. 

It is important to note, that the act must cause the death. It must be direct, natural, and a probable consequence of the act. Otherwise, without the act, the death would have never happened. It is a natural and probable consequence if a reasonable person were to know that the act would result in death if nothing unusual intervenes. 

For example: 

 Karen’s babysitter cancels the day of the concert that she has been planning to attend for months. She decides to take the risk of leaving her 9 and 10-year-old kids home alone, to later find out, a house next door caught on fire, causing her house to also catch fire. The children die in the fire. Although she did leave the children home alone, their death was not a direct cause of her leaving them in the house by themselves. 

California Penal Code 273d Penalties and Sentencing

Penal Code 192b is always a felony in California. In additional to the penalties, an involuntary manslaughter case often triggers a civil lawsuit brought on by the family of the victim. If you accidentally kill someone with a fire arm or a “deadly weapon” this too will count as a “strike offense” under California’s three strike laws. 

 

The penalties for involuntary manslaughter could include: 

  • Felony (formal) probation 
  • Two, three, or four years in jail 
  • A fine of up to ten thousand dollars 
What are legal

defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter?

There are several defense that your attorney can assert to fight involuntary manslaughter charges. Below are the most common types of defenses: 

You acted in self-defense or defense of others

This type of defense applies when: 

  1. You believed that you or someone was in danger of being killed, suffering great bodily injury, raped, or robbed 
  2. The defendant reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary and the only option to defend against the imminent danger. 
  3. You used a proportional amount of force and no more than was reasonably necessary. Words or insults do not suffice. 

Example: 

Chloe is home-alone and hears footsteps coming from her living room. She comes out of her room to check and sees that there is an intruder. He waves a gun in the air and tell her to do as he says or he will shoot her. As Chloe was getting down on her knees and he is approaching her, she grabs a lamp and hits him on the head. Although the man suffered a fatal injury, Chloe would not be guilty of murder because she reasonably feared for her life and the use of deadly force was justified to prevent him for inflicting great bodily injury on her. 

True accidental killing

In a sense, all cases of involuntary manslaughter are accidents. However, if the defendant was doing a lawful act by lawful means and with ordinary caution. In other words, if the defendant was not acting with “criminal negligence” then this defense can apply to involuntary manslaughter charges. 

A well-prepared defense must prove that: 

  1. The defendant had no intent to do criminal harm 
  2. The defendant was not acting with criminal negligence at the time of the accidental killing
  3. They were not committing a crime and were engaged in a lawful activity during the accident. 
There is insufficient evidence

A criminal defense attorney may challenge the prosecutor’s case by reexamination of the evidence, interviewing witnesses and proving that the evidence does not support the link between the defendant and the unintentional killing. Also, if the evidence was not obtained properly then it cannot be used against the defendant. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you against these charges is critical to uncover what actually happened.