Negligent homicide is when a person dies as a result of someone else’s criminal negligence.
Each state determines how to define negligent homicide and what the corresponding punishment is. Criminally negligent homicide cases are charged as involuntary manslaughter in California.
Involuntary manslaughter can apply in cases of both reckless homicide and negligent homicide. As a felony, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to four years in jail or prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Involuntary manslaughter in California
When a jury determines whether to convict someone of a crime, they consider whether or not certain facts of the case were true. These are known as the “elements of the crime.”
Involuntary manslaughter (Penal Code 192b PC) has three elements.
- The defendant broke a California state law that is not an inherently dangerous felony, or committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner.
- The act involved “criminal negligence.”
- The act caused someone else’s death.
There are some critical pieces in the language of the law to highlight and explain more. First, involuntary manslaughter charges in negligent homicide cases only apply when another law is broken. Simple accidents do not qualify.
Next, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with “criminal negligence,” which is much more than simple carelessness.
What is criminal negligence?
Criminal negligence in California goes beyond mere carelessness or error in judgment. It involves actions that are so reckless that they create a high risk of death or great bodily harm, and a reasonable person would have known that such actions could result in such a risk.
The defining characteristic of criminal negligence is the disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of one’s actions. To be criminally negligent, one doesn’t need to intend to cause harm. Instead, the focus is on the unreasonable nature of the behavior and the severe risks it posed.
For example, if a person drives under the influence of alcohol and causes a fatal accident, they may not have intended to harm anyone, but their reckless decision to drive while intoxicated could be considered criminally negligent.To prove criminal negligence, the prosecutor must show that the defendant:
- Acted in a reckless way that created a high risk of great bodily injury or death, and
- A reasonable person would’ve known that acting in such a way would create that risk.
What are some examples of negligent homicide?
Negligent homicide is a type of involuntary manslaughter that occurs when someone kills another person through negligence or carelessness. This can happen in a number of ways. Negligent homicide is typically charged as a felony and can result in prison time if convicted. Some other examples include:
- Failing to supervise a child properly thus resulting in the death of the infant. This can be anything from a child drowning because a guardian fails to properly supervise, or leaving a child in a hot car.
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is commonly referred to as “drunk driving.” Drunk driving is a crime in most jurisdictions and can result in a criminal homicide charge if someone is killed as a result of the defendant’s actions.
- Firing a gun as an act of celebration resulting in anyone being hit and killed.
- Reckless driving is a type of dangerous driving that occurs when someone drives in a way that shows a disregard for the safety of others. It can include speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights or stop signs, and other dangerous maneuvers. Reckless driving can be considered negligent homicide if it results in an accident or death.
Defenses in negligent homicide cases
Negligent homicide cases are usually simple accidents. It can make an unfortunate situation even worse when a person dies under unusual circumstances, and the police are often the first on the scene, determined to find a crime when there often wasn’t one.
It’s important to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney if you or someone you know is facing negligent homicide charges. Your attorney will work with you to review the facts of the case with you and build your defense. A good attorney will be your advocate inside the courtroom and out, and they will keep you informed throughout the process.
Every attorney is different, and it’s important to thoroughly interview a number of attorneys to find the right one for you. Robert M. Helfend is a SuperLawyers rated trial attorney, specializing in homicide cases in the Los Angeles area. Call today for a free, no risk case review – 800-834-6434