Obtaining Justice
For The Accused

At Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law, we have been saving clients from jail, years in prison, excessive fines and wrongful convictions since 2005.

Obtaining Justice
For The Accused

At Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law, we have been saving clients from jail, years in prison, excessive fines and wrongful convictions since 2005.

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Involuntary Manslaughter

What is involuntary manslaughter?

 California Penal Code section 192 defines “manslaughter” as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice” and specifies that there are three kinds of manslaughter: (1) voluntary, (2) involuntary, and (3) vehicular. (Pen. Code, § 192.) Subdivision (b) then defines the following as involuntary manslaughter:

  • Involuntary-in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.(Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (b).) Thus, the statute makes it clear that involuntary manslaughter does not apply to the killing of another person from driving a vehicle.  Manslaughter where a vehicle is involved, is called vehicular manslaughter.  (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (c).)

What are the types of involuntary manslaughter in California?

 There are two types of involuntary manslaughter in California: (1) a killing during an unlawful act that is not a felony, i.e., misdemeanor manslaughter and (2) a killing during a lawful act that may produce death, but is done in an unlawful manner or without due care, i.e., negligent manslaughter. Both types require that the killing be “unlawful,” but they are slightly different in their requirements.

 Killing during an unlawful act not amounting to a felony

The first type of involuntary manslaughter is a killing that occurs “in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony.” (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (b).) California courts have clarified that this is a killing “during the commission of a misdemeanor inherently dangerous to human life.” (People v. Guillen (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 934, 1026.) In other words, if a person commits a misdemeanor that is inherently dangerous to human life and a person dies during the commission of that killing, that is sufficient for involuntary manslaughter.

So then what constitutes a misdemeanor that is inherently dangerous to human life? The California Supreme Court has clarified that the inherent or abstract nature of a misdemeanor is not what makes it dangerous to human life. (People v. Cox (2000) 23 Cal.4th 665, 674.) In other words, there is not a list of misdemeanors that are simply deemed to be inherently dangerous. Rather, “the offense must be dangerous under the circumstances of its commission.” (People v. Wells (1996) 12 Cal.4th 979, 988.)

Practically speaking, this means that if a person commits a misdemeanor under circumstances that are dangerous and someone dies while during the commission of that misdemeanor, the person can be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As an example, if a person goes into a store and commits misdemeanor shoplifting, and while they’re running out of the store they knock someone into the street who is then hit by a bus and dies, the person could be validly convicted of involuntary manslaughter under these circumstances. While misdemeanor shoplifting is not a dangerous crime in the abstract, the person’s actions in running out of the store and subsequently running into someone in a manner that pushed them into the street renders this misdemeanor “dangerous under the circumstances of its commission.”

Killing during a lawful act that may produce death, but done unlawfully or without due care

The second type of involuntary manslaughter is a killing that occurs “in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.” (Pen. Code, § 192, subd. (b).) This type of killing is considered “unlawful” if it occurs “in the commission of an act ordinarily lawful but which involves a high risk of death or bodily harm, and which is done without due caution or circumspection.” (People v. Skiff (2021) 59 Cal.App.5th 571, 579.)

 California courts have clarified that the phrase “without due caution or circumspection” means the same thing as criminal negligence. (Somers v. Superior Court (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 961, 967.) In order to prove criminal negligence, the prosecution must demonstrate both of these elements:

  1. An act committed in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury

and

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

(Stringfield v. Superior Court of the State of California (S.D. Cal. 2016) 166 F.Supp.3d 1144, 1155.) In other words, to find criminal negligence, a defendant must act in a reckless way, and a reasonable person would have been aware of the risk. And a defendant’s good faith belief that their actions don’t pose a risk is not a defense. (People v. Luo (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 663, 671.)

This type of involuntary manslaughter often occurs in situations where a person has a legal duty to take care of another person but fails to do so. For example, there was a case in California where a residential care facility for elderly persons admitted an individual who had a dementia diagnosis. (People v. Skiff (2021) 59 Cal.App.5th 571, 574.) Under the facility’s license, they were not permitted to house people with dementia. (Ibid.) The facility allowed the individual to wander through the community unsupervised, and he ultimately ran in front of a car on a busy highway and died. (Ibid.) The CEO of the residential care facility was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and that conviction was upheld on appeal. (Ibid.)

 Is involuntary manslaughter a misdemeanor or felony? And how is it punished?

 Involuntary manslaughter is a felony. It is punishable by two, three, or four years in state prison. (Pen. Code, § 193, subd. (b).) Formal probation may also be an option in some circumstances, i.e., meaning a defendant can potentially avoid prison time if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.