Pursuant to California Penal Code section 192(b), Involuntary Manslaughter involves any unlawful, illegal, or reckless killing of someone, but without premeditation or deliberation. However, the District Attorney’s Office has the discretion to charge that killing as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the particularities of the situation.
The primary difference between Involuntary Manslaughter and Voluntary Manslaughter (California Penal Code section 192(a)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html./, Second-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 192(a)&(b)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html., and First-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 190): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190.html is the absence of the intention to kill the victim.
More specifically, Murder, as defined in California Penal Code section 187: (https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-187.html, entails the element of “malice aforethought.”
Another distinguishing characteristic of Involuntary Manslaughter is the fact that unlike Voluntary Manslaughter and Murder, there is no such crime as attempted involuntary manslaughter. See People v. Johnson (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1329, 1332. Again, this has to do with the fact that Involuntary Manslaughter can only be charged when the killing is unintentional.
Please keep in mind that any Involuntary Manslaughter crime that involves a moving vehicle will be charged as Vehicular Manslaughter (California Penal Code section 191.5(c)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-191-5.html
Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter – “Strikes”
Under California’s so-called “Three Strikes Law” (California Penal Code section 667: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-667.html, Involuntary Manslaughter can be charged as a Strike Offense (Penal Code section 667(a)&(b) and California Penal Code section 1192.7: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-1192-7.html
if the victim was killed with either a gun or any dangerous/deadly weapon, or if the defendant inflicted severe physical harm on the victim before he/she died.
More specifically, under Penal Code 1192.7(c), which identifies all “serious offenses” that can be – and typically are – charged as Strikes, Involuntary Manslaughter falls under the following description therein:
(8) any felony in which the defendant personally inflicts great bodily injury on any person, …, or any felony in which the defendant personally uses a firearm; . . .
(23) any felony in which the defendant personally used a dangerous or deadly weapon….”
As a result, if Involuntary Manslaughter is charged as a Strike, a conviction will result in a sentencing enhancement of anywhere from five additional years in prison to life, depending on the defendant’s criminal record and other circumstances.
Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter -- Lesser Included Offense
When a defendant is charged with either First-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 190): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-190.html
or Second-Degree Murder (California Penal Code section 192(a)&(b)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html, the prosecutor will typically request that the presiding judge offer Involuntary Manslaughter as a “lesser included offense” to the jury.
This means that in the event the jury is unable to convict on the greater charge, they will still have the option of convicting on a reduced homicide charge. (As such, Voluntary Manslaughter (California Penal Code section 192(a)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html./ will also typically be offered as a lesser included offense.)
See People v. Orr (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 780, 784.
A jury will often convict a murder defendant of a lesser offense if they are unable to unanimously agree that there was specific intent involved in the killing.
A defendant could also be convicted of a lesser offense if the prosecutor offers that particular charge as a plea to avoid the risk of trial.
California Statutes Regarding Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter
California Penal Code section 192(b)
A defendant will be convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury all of the following elements:
The killing occurred while the defendant committed a misdemeanor or an infraction;
The killing occurred while the defendant committed an unlawful act that was not necessarily a crime; and
The killing occurred while the defendant committed a lawful act, but one which was executed in a reckless manner that could have foreseeably resulted in death.
By contrast, if the defendant killed the victim while committing an “inherently dangerous” felony, then he or she will be prosecuted for “felony murder” California Penal Code section 189 ("Felony-Murder Rule") at: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-189.html;.
Criminally Negligent Death
No matter what the underlying circumstances are, the prosecutor must be able to prove that the defendant killed the victim while acting in a criminally negligent manner. This is a higher standard than civil negligence, which involves “ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment”.
In other words, the defendant must have committed an act with an inherently high risk of death or severe physical harm.
Further, the jury must find that the defendant knew or should have known (based on a reasonable person’s perception) that the act was inherently deadly.
See Judicial Council of California’s Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 581 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Murder Not Charged -- Pen. Code § 192(b)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/581/
Next, the jury must find that the defendant’s act directly or naturally caused -- or otherwise would have probably resulted in -- the victim’s death.
Finally, the jury must find that but for the defendant’s act, the victim would not have died.
Failure to Perform a Legal Duty
Alternatively, a jury can convict the defendant of Involuntary Manslaughter if they find true the following elements:
The defendant owed a legal duty to the deceased;
The defendant failed to perform it;
The failure amounted to criminal negligence; and
That failure resulted in the subject death.
Please note that determining a “legal duty” is considered to be a “matter of law” to be determined by a judge, as opposed to a “matter of fact” to be decided by a jury.
See CALCRIM no. 582 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Failure to Perform Legal Duty—Murder Not Charged -- Pen. Code § 192(b)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/582/
See also CALCRIM no. 540A (“Felony Murder: First Degree – Defendant Allegedly Committed Fatal Act”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/540a/
Convictions for Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter
Excluding any sentencing enhancements (such as for a Strike offense under California Penal Code section 667(a)&(b): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-667.html, and California Penal Code section 1192.7: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-1192-7.html
), if a defendant is convicted of felony Involuntary Manslaughter, then he or she can be expected to receive – assuming the judge orders prison – a term of 24, 36, or 48 months in a California penitentiary, pursuant to California Penal Code section 193 (prison terms).
However, as indicated above, the defendant can receive additional prison time if any of the following “special allegations” are proven:
Personal Discharging of a Firearm During the Commission of a Serious Felony (California Penal Code section 12022.53(c)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-53.html.
Personal Use of a Firearm During a Felony (California Penal Code section 12022.5): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-5.html
Personal Use of a Dangerous Weapon During the Commission of a Felony (California Penal Code section 12022): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022.html
Inflicting Great Bodily Injury (GBI) (California Penal Code section 12022.7): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-7.html.
Serious injury is defined as “great bodily injury” (California Penal Code section 12022.7): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-7.html
Inflicting Great Bodily Injury (GBI) On A Child Under the Age of Five Years (California Penal Code section 12022.7(d)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-12022-7.html
Gang Enhancement (California Penal Code section 186.22): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-186-22.html
Hate Crime (California Penal Code section 422.55): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-422-55.html
Injuring an Elderly Person (California Penal Code section 368(b)(2)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-368.html.
Defenses to Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
According to CALCRIM, these are some of the most effective defenses to a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter:
The defendant was only acting in defense of him/herself or of a third party against the decedent, who the actual aggressor/assailant;
The death resulted from a lawful or otherwise legal act/incident;
The defendant did not act in a reckless or otherwise criminally negligent manner when the decedent was killed;
The defendant was not aware – nor should reasonably have been aware – that his/her act could have resulted in death or serious injury;
The defendant did not act with a “conscious disregard” for the decedent’s life/safety;
The decedent’s death resulted from a non-criminally-negligent accident;
The defendant acted in a lawful manner when he/she committed the act that resulted in the decedent’s death;
The defendant’s act was not the proximate cause of the decedent’s death (in other words, the defendant’s act wasn’t a “substantial factor” in said death).
See California Penal Code section 195: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-195.html (defining “excusable homicide”);
See also CALCRIM”) number 580 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Lesser Included Offense”);
CALCRIM no. 581 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Murder Not Charged -- Pen. Code § 192(b)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/581/
CALCRIM no. 582 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Failure to Perform Legal Duty—Murder Not Charged -- Pen. Code § 192(b)”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/582/
CALCRIM no. 505 (“Justifiable Homicide: Self-Defense or Defense of Another”): https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/505/
Examples of Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter – Felony Cases
Plastic surgeon receives 60 months’ incarceration for killing patient during lipo session
On August 20, 2010, Encino medical doctor Ehab Mohamed (44) administered liposuction to his patient Sharon Carpenter (61) in a criminally negligent manner that resulted in her dying on his operating table. The actual cause of death was determined to be an overdose of anesthesia after the end of their eight-hour procedure.
The LA County District Attorney’s Office also claimed that two months earlier, the doctor had performed a similar procedure on another patient, Ms. Zackie Handy (77), thereby causing her serious injury (though not death).
Mohamed eventually had his medical license suspended for failing to properly advise his patients of the risks involved in these surgical procedures; for failing to get sufficient training to perform them in a safe and competent manner; and for failing to have his assistants trained in both the procedure and how to safely operate the applicable equipment.
In 2013, the medical board revoked his license following a lengthy investigation and process.
Almost four-and-a-half years after Carpenter’s death, jurors found Mohamed guilty of two felonies:
Involuntary Manslaughter (Pen. Code section 192(b)) (for Carpenter) and
Elder Abuse (California Penal Code section 368) (for Handy).
He was later sentenced to 60 months in a California prison, and received a restitution order for $5 million. See latimes.com.
A foreign national architect gets 12 months for negligently causing the death of a fireman
In late 2010, a Los Angeles city inspector conducted a final inspection on a brand-new estate that would sell for almost $8 million several years later. The mansion had been constructed by a foreign national named Gerard Becker (46) as his primary residence.
During this final inspection, Becker had informed the inspector that he wouldn’t be installing a fireplace – which, in fact, he did months later in a criminally negligent manner by installing a fireplace intended only for outdoors inside the living room. Becker apparently didn’t realize that an outdoor fireplace contains inherently flammable materials.
In any event, shortly after he took possession of the property (Feb. 2011), the inadequately vented fireplace emitted burning embers into the living room, which caught fire and spread from there throughout the rest of the main house.
LAFD arrived to put out the flames, but when the roof collapsed, firefighter Glenn Allen (age unknown) was killed and two of his colleagues were seriously hurt while they fought the flames.
Following an investigation, LAFD found that the improperly vented fireplace had caused flames to shoot upwards to the living room ceiling, which then caved in on the three firefighters.
The architect ultimately accepted a no-contest plea to felony Involuntary Manslaughter (Pen. Code section 192(b)). Not surprisingly, the DA’s Office asked for the max: four years in a state penitentiary.
However, just after New Year’s Day 2014, Becker was sentenced to only one year in the county jail (and would only serve approximately half of that with good behavior) and three years’ probation. He was also deported immediately upon release back to his native Germany (without having to complete his probationary term).
On a final note, the presiding judge stated that the reason he had given such a lenient sentence was because the city inspector who had conducted the final inspection was partially responsible for the casualties because the inspector should have followed up once more before signing off the approval paperwork for the mansion. See latimes.com.
Five friends are convicted in the death of a Marine during an altercation in Pasadena
In early Aug. 2013, a handful of men attacked and viciously assaulted an off-duty Marine -- Joshua Martinez (25) -- outside of a pub in downtown Pasadena. The ringleader, Fernando Ramirez (also 25) of Rowland Heights, apparently dealt the final blows resulting in Martinez’s death.
In Nov. 2014 (almost 16 mos. after the killing), a jury found Ramirez guilty of felony Involuntary Manslaughter (Pen. Code section 192(b)) and Aggravated Battery Causing Serious Bodily Injury (California Penal Code section 243(d).
One month later, he was sentenced to more than seven-and-a-half years in prison, including for a special allegation that Ramirez had Inflicted Great Bodily Injury (GBI) (California Penal Code section 12022.7). This resulted from the fact that Ramirez had beat the victim so viciously that he fell into a comatose state which lasted until he finally passed away.
The four men accompanying Ramirez that night (Jonah Ramos, Angel Moroyoqui, Johnathan Aquino, and Timothy Coley) and who had assisted him in the attack, each pled no contest to Assault by Means Likely to Produce Great Bodily Injury/Aggravated Assault (California Penal Code section 245(a)(4)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-245.html
As a result, each of them received jail sentences of half-a-year, three years’ probation, and two years of community service.
Angeleno Gets an Eight-Year Prison Sentence for Causing His Friend’s Overdose Death
On or about May 20, 2015, Los Angeles resident Thomas Loaiza (age thirty-eight) gave his friend Kahlil Banks (age forty-two) a lethal dose of heroin at the latter’s Santa Clarita residence. According to authorities, after shooting up Banks and seeing him O.D., Loiza failed to call for help and abandoned him.
As a result, Loiza was arrested by LASD deputies and charged by the LA Co. DA’s Office with involuntary manslaughter.
On December 4, 2015, Loiza accepted a nolo contendre plea to felony involuntary manslaughter. Two weeks later he received a sentence of almost nine yrs. in a California penitentiary. The relatively harsh sentence resulted from the fact that he had a prior Strike Offense (California Penal Code section 667(a)&(b)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-667.html and
California Penal Code section 1192.7: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-1192-7.html for Second-Degree Robbery (California Penal Code section 211): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-211.html 20 years earlier.
Example of a Felony Involuntary Manslaughter Case Involving a Celebrity
Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s former doctor
For at least several years leading up to superstar Michael Jackson’s death, his medical doctor Conrad Murray frequently gave him various sedatives. More importantly, over an eight-week period (late April – late June 2009), he gave him daily injections of propofol, a strong sleep drug that was determined to have caused Jackson’s death on June 25, 2009.
The LA County DA’s Office therefore had Murray arrested and charged him with Involuntary Manslaughter (California Penal Code section 192(b)): https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html./
In early November 2011, Murray’s month-long trial commenced, at the end of which jurors found true that Murray:
Recklessly injected Jackson with propofol;
Shirked his legal duty to monitor Jackson while under the drug;
Failed to call “9-1-1” after the singer overdosed; and
Abandoned him after he did overdose.
Murray therefore received the maximum sentence of four years in a state prison.
The judge clearly indicated that if Murray had shown any remorse or accepted blame for the overdose, Murray would have received a lower sentence.
Instead, the judge cited a TV interview the former doctor (whose medical license was revoked following the death) where Murray refused to accept any responsibility; actually considered himself to be the victim; and put all the blame on Jackson for abusing the prescribed drugs.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
As of March 2021, LADALF’s founding lawyer Ninaz Saffari is a seventeenth-year criminal defense attorney who has represented individuals accused of committing virtually every type of Involuntary Manslaughter charge. She has been doing so since she spent her first four years practicing law as a Deputy Public Defender for Los Angeles County.
In fighting these types of cases, Ninaz often employs other professionals, including P.I.s and accident reconstructionists, in preparing her client’s defense.
As of the end of March 2021, Ninaz is defending three individuals against First-Degree Murder cases (California Penal Code section 190), which could possibly result in involuntary manslaughter pleas, depending on the outcomes of their respective prosecutions.