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 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. For example, these cases could qualify as involuntary manslaughter: 

  • A person speeding through a school zone and killing a person in a crosswalk (speeding, failure to yield at a crosswalk)
  • During a fight, a person waves a pistol at another person, and the gun accidentally discharges and kills the other person (brandishing a firearm).

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.

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.