Reckless homicide refers to a situation where a person dies as a result of someone else’s reckless act (or failure to act).

It’s up to each state to decide how to handle reckless homicide cases and what the punishment should be. In California, reckless homicide cases, also sometimes called “reckless murder,” are charged as involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is a broadly written charge, which covers cases of both reckless homicide and negligent homicide. It is a felony in California, punishable by up to four years imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000.

Involuntary manslaughter in California

In order to convict someone of a crime, a prosecutor has to convince the members of the jury that certain facts of the case are true. These are known as the “elements of the crime.”

Involuntary manslaughter (Penal Code 192b PC) has three elements.

  1. The defendant broke a California law that is not an inherently dangerous felony, or committed a lawful act in an unlawful manner.
  2. The act involved “criminal negligence.”
  3. The act caused someone else’s death.

In other words, involuntary manslaughter cases only apply when another law is broken. Simple, lawful accidents do not qualify as involuntary manslaughter.

As well, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with “criminal negligence,” which is much more than simple carelessness:

  1. The defendant acted in a reckless way that created a high risk of great bodily injury or death, and
  2. A reasonable person would’ve known that acting in such a way would create that risk.

Examples of reckless homicide

Below, we’ll list six hypothetical scenarios that could potentially result in a charge of reckless homicide or involuntary manslaughter in California:

  1. Drunk Driving: A person decides to drive home after a night of heavy drinking. Their impaired judgment leads to a fatal collision. Despite not intending to cause harm, their reckless decision to drive a motor vehicle under the influence could result in a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
  2. Texting While Driving: If a driver, distracted by their phone, causes a deadly accident because they were texting, this could be seen as reckless homicide. Their decision to prioritize a text message over the safety of others on the road can be seen as criminally negligent.
  3. Illegal Street Racing: Two drivers decide to engage in an illegal street race in a populated area. One of them loses control and crashes into a pedestrian, resulting in death. Their reckless conduct and disregard for public safety could lead to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
  4. Improper Gun Handling: Someone recklessly waves a loaded gun around at a party, thinking it’s not loaded. The gun accidentally discharges, killing another party-goer. Their negligent behavior could result in a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
  5. Negligent Child Care: A caregiver leaves a toddler unattended near a swimming pool, and the child tragically drowns. The caregiver’s negligence in this situation could lead to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
  6. Failure to Maintain Safety in a Public Space: A building owner who ignores building codes and fails to maintain a secure environment, leading to a balcony collapse and a death. Their negligent disregard for safety regulations could lead to an involuntary manslaughter charge.

These examples demonstrate that involuntary manslaughter often results from a moment of poor judgment or disregard for safety, rather than a premeditated intent to cause harm. Nonetheless, the consequences are severe and can result in significant legal penalties.

Penalties for reckless homicide in California

In California, reckless homicide (involuntary manslaughter) is typically classified as a felony.

A reckless homicide conviction can result in up to 4 years in a California state prison. However, the exact length of the prison term can depend on a range of factors, including the circumstances of the case and the defendant’s criminal history.

In addition to prison time, the penalties for reckless homicide can include fines of up to $10,000. This is the maximum fine under California law for this offense.

The court may also order the defendant to pay restitution to the victim’s family. This is a financial payment meant to compensate for losses resulting from the crime, such as funeral expenses, lost income, and emotional suffering.

Facing charges of involuntary manslaughter can be overwhelming. The potential penalties are severe, and the impact on one’s life can be substantial. If you or someone you know is facing such charges, it’s crucial to engage an experienced criminal defense attorney who can provide a vigorous defense and guide you through the complexities of the legal system.

Defenses in reckless homicide cases

Reckless homicide cases are often accidents. When a person dies under unusual circumstances, the police are often the first to get involved, and like a hammer looking for a nail, they often try to find a crime when there really is none.

If you or someone you love has been accused of reckless homicide, there are defenses available to you. As we mentioned above, the state must prove that the defendant broke a California law and acted with such recklessness that a reasonable person would have abstained. Your criminal defense attorney can review the facts of the case with you and work to build a strong defense.

Robert M. Helfend is a specialist in homicide cases, defending the Los Angeles area since 1984. He has recently been recognized by his peers on the SuperLawyers list, National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Lead Counsel. Call today for your free case evaluation – 800-834-6434.