The crime of murder is not the only criminal charge available in cases where one is responsible for someone else’s death. In many cases, manslaughter is charged instead. TV shows and news reports sometimes make it seem like being convicted of manslaughter is nearly equivalent to getting away with murder, but in many cases, manslaughter still carries severe penalties. The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s Ventura manslaughter defense lawyers explain the potential penalties and jail time associated with manslaughter charges in California.

What is Manslaughter in California?

Manslaughter is a crime under California Penal Code 192. This statute defines manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” This is different from murder charges in California in that the murder statute requires “malice aforethought,” which is “deliberate intention” or “an abandoned and malignant heart,” under Penal Code 187 and 188. Instead, manslaughter occurs when the killing was not intentional.

There are 3 types of manslaughter: voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when the actor kills someone else during a “sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” There must be sufficient “provocation” or heat of passion that makes the killing less intentional than murder. The classic example of this kind of manslaughter is when a husband kills his wife or her lover after finding them in bed together. This type of manslaughter is commonly used as an alternative to murder charges or to “plea down” murder to manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the actor kills someone while doing something dangerous. If the actions that led to the death were illegal but were not a felony, the killing may be involuntary manslaughter. Alternatively, doing something legal can also be involuntary manslaughter if the act was done “without due caution or circumspection.” This can include accidentally killing someone while committing a nonviolent crime or causing someone to die by prescribing them dangerous drugs.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Killing someone else in a car accident may be charged as vehicular manslaughter. For this to happen, you must have been doing something illegal behind the wheel. For instance, hitting someone during a high-speed chase could be vehicular manslaughter. This crime can be charged under multiple subsections of the statute, each of which accounts for different levels of negligence or gross negligence involved in the killing. There is a separate statute, Penal Code 191.5, dealing with gross vehicular manslaughter, which deals with killing someone while driving under the influence.

How Much Jail Time Can I Face for Manslaughter in California?

The amount of jail time for most crimes varies somewhat, based on the circumstances of the crime. Many California crimes “wobble” between misdemeanor and felony charges, depending on how severe the crime was, the actor’s cooperation with police, the actor’s willingness to admit to the offense, and other factors. Misdemeanors have a maximum of one year in jail, but most manslaughter cases are felonies which carry more than a year in prison.

Each type of manslaughter has a different set of potential penalties, with voluntary manslaughter carrying the highest potential penalty. Voluntary manslaughter can lead to 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison. Alternatively, involuntary manslaughter is punished by 2, 3, or 4 years in prison.

Vehicular manslaughter is treated differently, and its penalties vary depending on which subsection of the statute the crime was charged under. Vehicular manslaughter can be a misdemeanor carrying the potential maximum of one year in county jail if it was committed without “gross negligence.” If it did involve gross negligence, the defendant will instead face the potential of 2, 4, or 6 years in prison.

“Gross negligence” is an important part of this offense and can mean the difference between months and years of imprisonment. Courts consider “negligence” a failure to use the proper care or skill that a reasonable person in the same situation would use. Gross negligence occurs when the care or skill used is far below that, demonstrating a “disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences,” according to California jury instructions.

The second highest potential jail time for manslaughter carries 4, 6, or 10 years in prison. This penalty applies to vehicular manslaughter that occurs during an intentional car accident committed for insurance fraud. This is one of the least common types of manslaughter charges.

Ventura, CA Manslaughter Lawyers Offering Free Legal Consultations

If you were arrested and accused of manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter in California, contact the Ventura criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth today. Our attorneys represent defendants accused of serious crimes, and we fight to get charges and penalties reduced and get cases dismissed. To schedule a free legal consultation on your charges and to discuss your options for fighting the charges against you, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.