How is involuntary manslaughter different from murder?
The main way that involuntary and voluntary manslaughter differs from murder is the defendant’s intent. When someone faces a manslaughter charge, the killing of the victim was unintentional. By contrast, a murder charge requires the defendant to have acted intentionally.
In some cases, a person can be charged with second-degree murder if he or she kills someone while committing a violent felony without an intent to kill. In this type of situation, the defendant might not have intended to kill someone else but did so when he or she was committing a violent felony such as armed robbery, kidnapping, or burglary. People who are charged with involuntary manslaughter act without criminal intent. For example, you can be charged with involuntary manslaughter if you drink at a bar and then kill someone in a drunk-driving accident. Some people can be charged with involuntary manslaughter even when their reckless or negligent actions were not illegal. For example, if you are a landlord and failed to keep the heating unit in an apartment in good working order, you might be charged with involuntary manslaughter if a fire breaks out and causes the deaths of some of the tenants.
Penalties for an involuntary manslaughter conviction in Pennsylvania
Involuntary manslaughter is much less serious than a murder charge. However, it still carries the potential for incarceration and other serious penalties if you are convicted of the offense. In most cases of involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania, people face first-degree misdemeanor charges. A conviction for first-degree misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter can result in a fine of up to $10,000 and a sentence of up to five years of prison.
If the victim is younger than age 12 and was in your custody or care at the time of his or her death, involuntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony. If you are convicted of this offense, you can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
While Pennsylvania has a general definition for involuntary manslaughter, the Commonwealth also defines specific offenses that are associated with driving a vehicle.
These types of offenses are called homicide by vehicle. This can be charged when you operate a vehicle in a grossly negligent way that violates a traffic law or ordinance. For example, intoxication or speeding that causes the death of someone else could lead to homicide by vehicle charges.
To prove that your actions were grossly negligent or reckless, the prosecutor will compare your conduct with the standard of care that a reasonable person would have followed under the same circumstances. A prosecutor might also explore whether you ignored a recognizable danger and continued your activity despite the significant risks involved.
What are the defenses to involuntary manslaughter?
Your attorney will carefully review the evidence in your case to identify the defenses that should be raised. One common defense that might be raised in an involuntary manslaughter case is that your actions did not cause the other person’s death. For example, if you were speeding, but the victim ran across the road suddenly at a mid-block location instead of at a crosswalk, this type of defense might be available to you. Another defense that might be raised to a charge of involuntary manslaughter is that the victim’s death was accidental. In this type of situation, your actions must have been lawful and not criminally negligent.