If you illegally kill another human being without malice, and certainly without deliberation or premeditation, then you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which, depending on the circumstances, can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor.

A subset of involuntary manslaughter crimes is described as vehicular manslaughter, which is also a “wobbler” with the exception of gross vehicular manslaughter (see below). In the latter offense, you allegedly killed someone while driving drunk and in a grossly negligent manner. As a result, you’ll not only be charged with a felony but, if convicted, can receive as much as a fifteen-years-to-life sentence.

Further, unlike other homicide offenses, please note that there is no such thing as attempted involuntary manslaughter. See People v. Johnson (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1329, 1332 at: https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/4th/51/1329.html.

Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter as a Lesser Included Offense of Murder

Aside from being charged as its own Penal Code violation, involuntary manslaughter is also considered to be a “lesser included offense” of both degrees of murder. See People v. Orr (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 780, 784 at: https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/4th/22/780.html.

This means that if you’re tried for, say, second-degree murder, the jury might be instructed by the judge that if the jury doesn’t find true that you had the requisite specific-intent mindset to convict you of that charge, they might still find you guilty of the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter. (Alternatively, the prosecutor might offer you this lesser crime as a plea offer.)

California Statutes Regarding Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter

California Penal Code section 192(b) (Involuntary Manslaughter)

If you kill someone under any of the following circumstances, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter:

  1. you killed the victim while committing a crime that is not a felony;

  2. you killed the victim while committing a lawful act but in such a way that this act would possibly result in his or her death; or

  3. you killed the victim while committing an unlawful act (i.e., by civil-law standards) in a reckless manner.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192.html.

California Penal Code section 192(c) (Vehicular Manslaughter)

So long as you were not intoxicated (see below), if you kill someone while operating a motor vehicle under any of the following circumstances, you will be charged with vehicular manslaughter (misdemeanor or felony):

  1. you killed the victim while driving in a manner that constitutes any crime that is not a felony but in a grossly negligent manner; 

  2. you killed the victim while driving in a manner that constitutes any crime that is not a felony but not in a grossly negligent manner;

  3. you killed the victim while driving in a manner that constitutes a lawful act but in such a way that this act would possibly result in his or her death but in a grossly negligent manner;

  4. you killed the victim while driving in a manner that constitutes an unlawful act but not in a grossly negligent manner;

  5. you killed the victim while driving in a manner that constitutes a lawful act but in such a way that this act would possibly result in his or her death, though not in a grossly negligent manner;

  6. you accidentally killed the victim while intentionally trying to cause an accident for monetary purposes and in a manner that proximately caused his or her death.

California Penal Code section 191.5 (Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated)

So long as you were legally intoxicated and did not have “malice aforethought”, if you kill someone while operating a motor vehicle under any of the following circumstances, you will be charged with gross vehicular manslaughter (which is always a felony):

  1. the killing was proximately caused by your committing the illegal act; and

  2. the illegal act was not a felony; and

  3. you acted in a grossly negligent manner; or

  4. the killing proximately resulted from your committing a legal act; and

  5. that act could possibly result in the victim’s death (i.e., the death was foreseeable);

  6. but the lawful act was carried out in an unlawful/illegal way; and

  7. that act was committed in a grossly negligent way.

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-191-5.html.

Convictions and Sentencing Terms for Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter

California Penal Code section 192(b) (Involuntary Manslaughter)

As a convicted felon for this crime, you’ll be sentenced to twenty-four, thirty-six, or forty-eight months in a state penal institution per California Penal Code section 193(a).

See: https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-193.html.

California Penal Code section 192(c) (Vehicular Manslaughter)

If charged as a misdemeanor and you’re convicted, you’ll face a maximum of twelve months in the county jail. But if you’re convicted of a felony and the judge sentences you to prison, you’ll do twenty-four, thirty-six, or seventy-two months in a penitentiary. Pen. Code § 193(b).

California Penal Code section 191.5 (Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated)

Gross vehicular manslaughter is punishable by four years, half-a-dozen years, or a decade in a state penitentiary. Pen. Code § 191.5(c)(1).

However, if you’ve previously been convicted of a DUI, you’ll now face a minimum of a decade-and-a-half to life. Pen. Code § 191.5(d).

Defenses to Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter

All of the following can serve to defeat a charge of involuntary manslaughter, as well as vehicular manslaughter while not intoxicated:

  1. you acted in self-defense or defense of another;

  2. the killing was lawful or otherwise legally justified;

  3. you did not act with deliberate disregard for the victim’s life;

  4. you weren’t objectively aware that your act could result in someone’s death;

  5. you weren’t aware that your act(s) entailed a conscious disregard for human life;

  6. the killing otherwise resulted from an accident lacking criminal negligence;

  7. the killing resulted from a legal act carried out in a legal way; and/or

  8. your act(s) was/were not the proximate cause of the victim’s death (i.e., your act(s) was/were not a substantial factor in the same).

See Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 580 (“Involuntary Manslaughter: Lesser Included Offense”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/580/.

Defenses to Gross Vehicular Manslaughter

The following defenses will counter a charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated:

  1. you weren’t actually under the influence of alcohol or narcotics at the time;

  2. you were intoxicated but had less than .08% BAC in your system (or, if you’re under twenty-one, then you had less than .05% BAC);

  3. the killing resulted from a lawful act that would not foreseeably result in death (alternatively, the act was a misdemeanor or infraction under the same circumstance);

  4. you were not acting in a grossly negligent way; and/or

  5. you were acting in a grossly negligent way but that did not proximately cause or substantially contribute to the victim’s death.

See CALCRIM number 590 (“Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/590/.

Examples of Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter – Felony Cases

Encino plastic surgeon gets five years in prison for fatal liposuction procedure and elder abuse

On or about August 21, 2010, an Encino plastic surgeon allegedly performed a liposuction procedure on a woman named Sharon Carpenter (age sixty-one) which resulted in her death. Specifically, Ehab Mohamed (age forty-four) allegedly gave her a fatal dose of anesthetic pharmaceuticals during an all-day cosmetic session at his medical facility.

According to the DA’s Office, this was the second such instance involving Mohamed’s medical malpractice that occurred in as many months. The first victim, who fortunately survived a similar all-day cosmetic procedure but nevertheless allegedly suffered severe health problems as a result, was a local woman named Zackie Handy (seventy-seven).

Within months, the state medical board suspended Mohamed’s medical license because he had allegedly failed to apprise his clients of the inherent dangers in getting lipo; for failing to get proper instruction on how to safely and competently perform the procedure; and for lacking sufficiently trained assistants and proper equipment to do so in his facility. As a result, in 2013, his license was permanently revoked.

On or about January 21, 2015, Mohamed was found guilty by a jury of two felonies: involuntary manslaughter for Carpenter’s death and elder abuse for Handy’s injuries. Two weeks later he received a five-year term in a state penitentiary, and was also required to pay five million dollars in victim restitution.

See: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-plastic-surgeon-botched-liposuction-20150203-story.html.

German architect receives only one year in county jail for proximately causing a firefighter’s death

In November 2010, an LA city inspector performed a final inspection on a newly completed Hollywood Hills mansion that would sell four years later for over seven-and-a-half million dollars. The house had been built for personal use by an architect named Gerard Becker (then forty-six), a German national living in the U.S. on a visa. At the time, Becker told the inspector that he had no plans to build a fireplace. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Becker did (though allegedly incompetently). Specifically, he installed an outdoor fireplace with flammable materials inside the mansion.

As a result, less than a week after he moved in (February 2011), a fire broke out in the fireplace and spread to the rest of the house because of these flammable materials. Far worse, fireman Glenn Allen died and two other firefighters were injured while trying to put out the fire. Authorities later determined the faulty fireplace had allowed the fire to blast straight up to the ceiling, which therefore collapsed on the three firemen.

Becker eventually accepted a nolo contendre plea to involuntary manslaughter. During that hearing, the Assistant DA prosecuting him asked the judge for the maximum sentence of forty-eight months in prison.

Instead, in early January 2014, Becker received an extremely lenient sentence of twelve months in jail with potential early release after only six months for good-time credit. In addition, he was all but certain to be deported upon his release which would effectively nullify the thirty-six months of probation he also received. (The judge explained that he gave Becker a break on the sentence because he felt city inspectors were partly responsible for the death because they should have checked on the house after it was finalized.)

See: https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-xpm-2014-jan-03-la-me-ln-german-architect-sentenced-20140103-story.html.

Five men are sentenced for the beating death of an active duty Marine reservist in Old Town, Pasadena

On or about August 5, 2013, five men allegedly jumped and beat up a Marine outside of a bar in Pasadena’s Old Town section. The primary assailant, Fernando Ramirez (age twenty-five) of Rowland Heights, allegedly killed the victim, Josh Martinez (same age), during the assault.

Fifteen months later, in November 2014, Ramirez was convicted at trial of two felonies: involuntary manslaughter and assault with force likely to cause severe injury. In early December 2014, the judge gave him almost eight years in a penitentiary. The sentence included an enhancement for personally causing severe injury – specifically, the coma the victim slipped into following the attack.

Ramirez’s accomplices all took nolo contendre felony pleas for their own roles in the incident. Consequently, Jonas Ramos and Angel Moroyoqui each received six months in jail and thirty-six months of formal probation for assault with force likely to cause severe injury. For the same conviction, John Aquino and Tim Coley received no jail, thirty-six months of formal probation, and two months of volunteer work.

See: https://da.lacounty.gov/sites/default/files/press/120214_Man_Sentenced_to_7_Years_For_Military_Reservists_Death.pdf.

Examples of Homicide Crimes – Involuntary Manslaughter Cases Involving Celebrities

Rebecca Gayheart (Urban Legend, Beverly Hills 90210, Scream 2)

In mid June 2001, actress Rebecca Gayheart struck and killed a nine-year-old boy, Jorge Cruz, while driving negligently through the Hollywood Hills. As the boy was jaywalking across a street, several other cars stopped for him but Gayheart swerved around them and struck the boy while she was talking on her cell phone. The boy died the following morning in the hospital

Fortunately for Gayheart, she wasn’t arrested by police at the scene because she was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In October 2001, the City Attorney’s Office charged her with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, with a maximum sentence of one year in the county jail. Shortly thereafter, she accepted a nolo contendre plea for the same charge

At the end of November 2001, Gayheart obtained an outstanding result: no jail, thirty-six months of informal probation, a driver’s license suspension of only twelve months, a fine of less than $3,000, and a requirement to make a PSA. The only significant punishment was a requirement to perform seven hundred and fifty hours of volunteer work, which amounts to approximately a four-and-a-half-month full-time commitment (at forty hours a week).

See: https://www.eonline.com/news/42502/gayheart-sentenced-for-manslaughter.

Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe)

On or about December 7, 1984, Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil (then age twenty-four) and Hanoi Rocks drummer Nick Dingley (who was visiting the U.S. for the first time and had only arrived the night before) were partying hard at Neil’s South Bay mansion. After running out of booze, they decided to make a liquor store run so hopped into Neil’s ‘Vette and drove down a major street parallel to the boardwalk.

Unfortunately, Neil was driving while seriously intoxicated and therefore lost control of the car, swerved into the oncoming lane, struck another car head-on, and caused severe injuries to its two occupants -- Dan Smithers (age twenty) and Lisa Hogan (age eighteen), who was rendered comatose for a month. Even worse, Neil killed Dingley. (Neil himself suffered only minor injuries.)

Neil’s BAC would turn out to be .17%, or significantly higher than the then-legal limit of .10%. As a result, he was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and DUI resulting in death. In July 1985, he accepted guilty pleas to both of those charges.

On September 20, 1985, he received the following punishment: thirty days in jail (reduced by 50% with good behavior), sixty months of formal probation, two hundred hours of volunteer work, and more than two-and-a-half million dollars in victim restitution. If Neil had gone to trial and lost, he would have faced as much as eight years in a penitentiary.

See: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-09-21-me-2356-story.html.

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s former doctor

Beginning in late April 2009 until late June 24, 2009, Dr. Conrad Murray injected superstar Michael Jackson every day with propofol, a powerful sleeping pharmaceutical, which directly resulted in Jackson’s death on June 25th. As a result, Murray was arrested and charged with felony involuntary manslaughter with a maximum sentence of forty-eight months in prison.

In early November 2011, Murray went to trial on that charge – a proceeding which lasted almost a month. The jury found true the allegations that Murray had recklessly administered the drug, failed to properly monitor Jackson, did not call for help after Jackson O.D.’d, and left Jackson alone after the O.D.

At the end of that month, Murray received the maximum sentence, which the judge explained Murray deserved because he had failed to show remorse or accept responsibility. The judge specifically cited a video interview Murray had foolishly given just before the commencement of his trial wherein he not only refused to accept the blame for Jackson’s death but actually blamed Jackson. Indeed, Murray’s indignation and anger at Jackson particularly rankled the judge.

Notably, based on the nature of the conviction, as well as the fact that Murray had spent significant time in the county jail awaiting trial, he would otherwise have been eligible for probation. In any event, because of time served and with good behavior, he would only have to serve twenty-four months’ incarceration. And, of course, he was permanently stripped of his medical license.

See: https://www.cnn.com/2011/11/29/justice/california-conrad-murray-sentencing/index.html.

Some of the Los Angeles Defense Attorney Law Firm’s Previous Involuntary Manslaughter Cases

People v. R.M.: LA Co. DA prosecuted our client for 2nd-degree murder with a possible life-with-parole sentence (but only after serving eighty-percent of the sentence if convicted as a strike) for DUI resulting in death with a prior DUI conviction.

Our client allegedly hit a bike rider with his car, resulting in his death, while the client was intoxicated. However, LADALF founder Ninaz Saffari was able to prove that his BAC was just under the legal limit of .08% and, therefore, was not under the influence at the time.

Ninaz also retained an expert to reconstruct the incident and thereby was successful in convincing the ADA prosecuting the case that the death was purely accidental and would have occurred even if the defendant had been completely sober

Result: Client was able to plead down to vehicular manslaughter with thirty-six months’ incarceration and possible parole with good behavior in eighteen months.

People v. K.E.: In a felony vehicular manslaughter prosecution, LADALF’s client was looking at a minimum of three years in prison plus the revocation of a fed. govt. top-security clearance and, therefore, the end of her stellar career. On top of all that, if convicted, she would be automatically deported because she was working here on a long-term work visa, and such a conviction would constitute a crime of moral turpitude.

Once again, Ninaz hired an expert who recreated the entire incident. His findings proved that the purported victim had actually been the one at fault because he had been driving far too fast. Ninaz and her expert thereafter personally met with the Assistant DA and carefully went over all the findings. At the same time, Ninaz – not wanting to take any chances – fully geared up for trial and “announced ready” to the court (which means the defendant is prepared to commence trial).

Result: Reduced plea to misdemeanor reckless driving resulting in injury, zero incarceration, 300 hrs.’ volunteer work, no loss of security clearance, and no deportation.

The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)

As a sixteenth-year lawyer (as of October 2020), LADALF leader Ninaz Saffari has been defending clients against every type of manslaughter charge since beginning her criminal-defense career as a Deputy PD. As indicated above, she works closely with top professionals in vigorously defending her clients against these charges, including hiring private investigators and accident reconstructionists when necessary.

Finally, please note that Ninaz currently has at least three clients facing first-degree and second-degree murder charges which may ultimately be pled down to involuntary manslaughter (assuming their cases are not dismissed pursuant to a dispositive motion or the clients are not acquitted at trial).