What is the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?

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Manslaughter, like murder, is a criminal offense that stems from the death of another person. In the case of murder, the intent was to deprive someone of their life. Manslaughter charges usually reflect neglect or preventable circumstances that did not include the premeditated intent to kill the other person involved.

Even within the offense of manslaughter, there are several subcategories. The kind of manslaughter charges a person faces will determine what penalties they risk and the burden of proof necessary for their conviction. How do California prosecutors differentiate between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter involves unpremeditated but intentional harm

Voluntary manslaughter is the charge a prosecutor might bring against someone who commits a so-called crime of passion in California.

When someone acts abruptly and without forethought during an argument or confrontation with another person and kills them, the lack of previous intention may mean that the circumstances don’t qualify as murder or intentional homicide. However, they may so meet the standard for voluntary manslaughter.

What is involuntary manslaughter?

Sometimes, a person committing a crime or behaving in a negligent manner causes the death of someone else. You can engage in behavior that you know is dangerous that doesn’t break the law and accidentally caused the death of another person. You could also cause the death of someone as part of a different criminal activity.

If harm to the other party wasn’t the intent but instead the tragic outcome of the dangerous behavior or law-breaking, the individual responsible for the situation could face involuntary manslaughter charges.

The penalties differ as well

The charges that a prosecutor brings against you will directly influence the penalties associated with a conviction. Involuntary manslaughter can result in incarceration for between two and four years. While those are serious consequences, voluntary manslaughter has more serious penalties that include between three and 11 years in state prison. Both of these forms of manslaughter could also result in up to $10,000 in fines.

Defendants accused of such a serious offense may have multiple defense strategies available, ranging from claims of self-defense to demonstrating that what occurred was truly an accident. Understanding the different kinds of manslaughter charges makes it easier to respond to a pending criminal case.