Legal definition of involuntary manslaughter

Written by candice geier
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Legal definition of involuntary manslaughter
Courts handle involuntary manslaughter charges in accordance with state laws (Palais de Justice de Montpellier image by Florian Villesèche from

Involuntary manslaughter is defined by the Free Legal Dictionary as, "the act of unlawfully killing another human being unintentionally." If a defendant kills someone without intent by a reckless act or by criminal negligence, the charge is involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter is interpreted differently across states, but the states must follow federal guidelines when sentencing a convicted person.

Criminally negligent manslaughter

A defendant may be charged with criminally negligent manslaughter if their behaviour was found reckless. Reckless behaviour is included in almost all involuntary manslaughter cases, according to the federal sentencing guideline. Reckless behaviour is when the defendant was fully aware of the risk associated with his or her behaviour and disregarded that risk. The risk would be considered a deviation from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation.

Unlawful act manslaughter

A person may be charged with unlawful act manslaughter, which is another form of involuntary manslaughter. This form of manslaughter is when the defendant accidentally caused death to another person while committing a misdemeanour. Some states delineate the crimes into malum in se or malum prohibitum. Crimes that are malum in se are actions that are inherently harmful to others. Malum prohibitum are acts that are considered crimes because they violate laws. A crime must be malum in se to qualify a manslaughter charge. If a malum prohibitum crime was committed, the defendant should have been able to assess the risk to another individual for it to qualify as an unlawful act manslaughter.

Vehicular homicide

If the defendant was the operator of a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner and caused the death of someone, they may be charged with vehicular homicide instead of involuntary manslaughter, according to the Free Legal Dictionary. A vehicular homicide charge protects the accused from harsher punishments that may accompany involuntary manslaughter charges.

Three ways to determine involuntary manslaughter

The government must prove three things to convict a person for involuntary manslaughter, according to the Lectric Law Library. First, a lawyer must prove the person died as a result of the defendant. Second, a lawyer must prove the defendant's act was either dangerous or showed a disregard for human life. The lawyer must also prove that the defendant's actions could be foreseen to cause injury to another person.


If a defendant is found guilty in a court of law for committing involuntary manslaughter, the maximum penalty is six years in prison per count. If the defendant is found guilty and accepts responsibility, he or she may serve as little as six months. If the defendant is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

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