Most people often confuse manslaughter with murder. These crimes are different under the law. Manslaughter includes illegal homicides that do not include premeditation or a callous disregard for human life, which would otherwise be murder. This distinction is crucial because it reflects a more complex understanding of situations where life is at risk.

Manslaughter is a violent crime that carries some of the harshest penalties if you are convicted. This is why you should retain an experienced manslaughter defense attorney to examine your case and help devise a suitable defense strategy. If you are facing manslaughter or related charges in the Monterey area, we at the Monterey Criminal Attorney can help defend you.

Understanding Manslaughter

The idea of "malice aforethought," which implies premeditation or a flagrant disrespect for human life, informs how the legal system in California handles unlawful homicides. Manslaughter accusations recognize circumstances in which lives are unlawfully taken without premeditation. In most cases, the killings are motivated by recklessness or extreme emotions rather than a calculated plan to kill. On the other hand, murder prosecutions rely on malice aforethought.

Three Categories of Manslaughter

Manslaughter falls into three main categories:

  • Voluntary manslaughter — Penal Code 192(a)
  • Involuntary manslaughter — Penal Code 192(b)
  • Vehicular manslaughter — Penal Code 192(c)
  1. Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when you act in the moment with intense feelings, acting in the heat of passion. In this case, the victim would have extremely provoked you, and in that moment, a reasonable person would have also lost control. Think about the scenario where you find out your partner is cheating on you and become so furious that you accidentally kill your spouse. The key consideration here is the momentary lack of control brought on by strong emotions.

  1. Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that occurs illegally and without malice. Instead, the offender’s acts demonstrate a criminally negligent disregard for the safety of others, which results in a fatality. This is not just a case of carelessness.

For example, according to the law, medical practitioners must provide care that meets the reasonable standard of care. Operating on a patient when intoxicated or under the influence of narcotics gravely violates this obligation. It creates a predictable risk of death or serious injury. It could be considered involuntary manslaughter if the patient dies as a result of the negligence.

  1. Vehicular Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is the category that includes vehicular manslaughter. This happens when you, the driver, are criminally negligent and cause a motor vehicle collision that results in a fatality. Your actions in this category show serious negligence that goes beyond simple mistakes. While driving under the influence (DUI) is a well-known example, other careless actions while operating a motor vehicle, like speeding too much or using a phone, may also be considered.

It is important to note the distinction between accidents and vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular manslaughter depends on a degree of negligence that a reasonable driver would not display, even if both cases include auto accidents and fatalities. For example, speeding through a red light and causing a fatal collision would likely be classified as vehicular manslaughter. This is due to the blatant disregard for traffic laws and safety.

Several offenses can result in vehicular manslaughter. These include

  • Causing a fatal accident while driving under the influence
  • Speeding carelessly and causing a fatal accident
  • Street racing and causing a deadly collision
  • Texting and driving that results in a fatal crash

The punishment for vehicular manslaughter can vary depending on your case's details. The courts will consider factors like your blood alcohol content or the degree of your irresponsible behavior.

There are two categories of vehicular manslaughter, namely:

  • Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence
  • Vehicular manslaughter while engaged in an unlawful act
  • Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain

Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence

Penal Code 192(c)(1) defines vehicular manslaughter as involuntary manslaughter with extreme carelessness. This category pertains to situations in which a driver's actions exhibit a blatant disregard for other people's safety and cause a fatality. The critical thing to consider in this situation is how serious the negligence was. It cannot just be small errors or poor judgment.

For example, it is a flagrant disregard for safety to drive at high speeds while evading police, especially in residential areas where there are more pedestrians. Because of the significant risk that your driving poses, you would probably be found guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence if such an evasion resulted in a fatality.

Vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence requires the fulfillment of several requirements, including:

  • The accidental nature of the death
  • Your gross negligence and
  • The direct cause of the death as a result of the negligence

Gross negligence refers to a more serious degree of carelessness than common errors or lapses in judgment." It refers to a deliberate or careless disregard for the safety of others or a known risk of injury. Some of the distinguishing characteristics of gross negligence include:

  • Severity — Gross negligence goes beyond ordinary negligence.
  • Foreseeability of harm — Your conduct or inaction must give rise to a plausible fear of possible harm. One glaring example is driving under the influence, which increases the likelihood of accidents.
  • Duty of Care — You must owe the affected party a duty of care. For example, it is legally required that all drivers drive their cars safely.
  • Intentionality or recklessness — The most critical factor is the deliberate or careless disregard for potential consequences.

Although the distinction between ordinary and gross negligence can be difficult to distinguish, the main factor is the level of culpability. While extreme negligence entails a willful or reckless disregard for safety, ordinary negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care.

Vehicular Manslaughter While Engaged in an Unlawful Act

You could face charges for vehicular manslaughter while taking part in an illegal act if the following are true:

  • Accidental death — It must not have been your purpose to kill. Even though what you did was illegal, killing the victim was not your intention.
  • Direct cause of death — The death must have resulted directly from your illegal act.
  • You committed a misdemeanor or infraction — At the time of the accident, you had to have been involved in an illegal act that was either categorized as a misdemeanor, which is a less serious felony, or an infraction, which is a minor offense. Driving under the influence, careless driving, speeding, running a red light, and operating a vehicle without a license are a few examples.

It is imperative to differentiate this crime from vehicular manslaughter resulting from gross negligence. While gross negligence focuses on a more extreme disregard for safety, even when the underlying act is lawful (for example, talking through a hands-free device while driving), manslaughter in this category focuses on the criminal act itself.

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

Ordinarily, vehicular manslaughter is an accident that results in death due to willful misconduct or illegal behavior. Vehicular manslaughter for financial gain, however, adds a crucial component: intentionality.

The main point of contention here is that you intentionally caused the accident out of a desire for financial advantage. This could entail veering into oncoming traffic or suddenly applying the brakes in front of another vehicle. The primary distinction is the financial incentive that led to the collision, which could include:

  • Getting insurance money
  • Paying off a debt the victim had, or
  • Inheriting money after the victim passed away

There has to be a fatal outcome as the regrettable result. Depending on the victim’s degree, injuries that do not result in death could result in various charges.

It is important to distinguish this crime from murder, which also entails a deliberate act that results in death. "Malice aforethought," or the planning to kill or do serious bodily injury, is a prerequisite for murder. While acknowledging the planned act, vehicular manslaughter for financial gain concentrates on the financial motive rather than a particular intent to kill. However, if they can prove malice aforethought, the law permits prosecutors to pursue murder charges.

Legal Defenses You Can Use in a Manslaughter Case

With the help of your attorney, you can fight the charges. The following are some of the defenses you can use:

  1. You Acted in Self Defense

You can assert that you acted in self-defense if you are facing voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges. The defense argues that, even in cases of voluntary manslaughter, where the intensity of your emotions impairs your judgment, the force you used was a necessary reaction to a perceived threat.

Self-defense is less successful in involuntary manslaughter cases. However, it is nonetheless relevant if the death was caused by an accident or an unintentional act of self-defense.

However, claiming self-defense requires fulfilling specific requirements. Your lawyer must demonstrate that the force you applied in that circumstance was appropriate and proportionate to the perceived threat. Evidence must also prove that the danger was present and could not have been avoided by withdrawal or de-escalation.

You must also demonstrate that you knew the threat and needed to defend yourself.

While the burden of disproving self-defense rests with the prosecution, a strong case is still necessary. "Reasonable force" is subjective, and the judge or jury determines proportionality. A poor proportionality argument could erode your claim of self-defense since the line separating excessive force from self-defense is not always clear.

  1. You Did Not Act Negligently

Attorneys can refute the prosecution's negligence claim to fight charges of involuntary manslaughter. Attorneys can use several strategies while asserting this defense. They include:

  • It was an accident — Your attorney will use the accident defense approach to demonstrate that the death was accidental and unintentional. It could be something as simple as an unexpected medical emergency or an unanticipated mechanical issue.
  • You lacked criminal negligence when you acted — While acknowledging the existence of an accident, your attorney will maintain that the degree of negligence did not rise to the criminal standard. It implies that there could have been a small error in your judgment but not the willful disregard for danger necessary to qualify as criminal negligence.
  • You acted with reasonable care — The goal of the reasonable care approach is to show that, given the situation, you behaved reasonably. This argument is strengthened by proving that you took all reasonable safety measures.
  • The actions of others were unforeseen, and these actions led to the victim’s death. Your attorney could argue that there was no way to prevent or predict the catastrophe. For example, even though you tried to avoid an accident, the victim could have abruptly rushed into traffic in front of your car. In this case, the collision could still be considered your fault.

Your attorney will obtain evidence from various sources to bolster these claims. Testimony from witnesses that supports your actions and the unanticipated events is crucial. They could also call specialists in accident reconstruction or related fields, like auto mechanics, to support your claims. Physical evidence can also be a powerful tool in your defense strategy. Examples include the state of the site, any mechanical malfunctions, and records of your safety procedures.

  1. Diminished Capacity

You can use diminished capacity as a defense in manslaughter cases. However, this defense is contingent upon meeting specific requirements. This defense asserts that you were much less able to understand the nature of your actions or form the required intent due to a mental or emotional handicap. It could serve as evidence in an involuntary manslaughter case to demonstrate how the impairment affected your ability to assess the possible risks associated with your actions.

Diminished capacity does not absolve one of all wrongdoings. Instead, it provides a partial defense. A strong defense in a voluntary manslaughter case could result in a lesser charge and a reduced sentence than in a murder case.

You bear the burden of proving diminished ability with a preponderance of the evidence. Documented mental diseases or, in some instances, transient mental impairment resulting from a head injury, severe emotional anguish, or an unexpected medical condition are examples of circumstances that support this defense. Though it is not a defense, extreme drug or alcohol intoxication can be used as proof that you did not have the essential intent to kill because of the drug's lowered mental state.

  1. There is Insufficient Evidence in Your Case

A knowledgeable lawyer can take advantage of the lack of sufficient evidence to lessen the seriousness of your charges.

The prosecution bears the burden of proof, meaning they must establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. They fall short of this standard when there is insufficient evidence. Your attorney will carefully examine the evidence to determine what undermines the prosecution's story. This entails:

  • Checking witness testimony for contradictions — They will review the prosecution's evidence in detail, looking for gaps or contradictions. An unlawfully obtained evidence or inconsistent witness testimony can seriously undermine the prosecution's case.
  • Contesting the reliability of the evidence gathered — Your attorney could call in expert witnesses to evaluate tangible evidence, refute the prosecution's assertions, or provide different interpretations, depending on the details of your case. Expert witness testimony is persuasive and can damage the prosecution's case.
  • Raising concerns about the prosecution's overall narrative — Your lawyer will look into other possible reasons for what happened and present a story that makes sense and differs from what the prosecution says. The goal of this approach is to cast doubt on the prosecution's case.

Your acquittal could result from raising doubts about any part of the crime, including criminal negligence.

Consequences of Manslaughter

The penalties for manslaughter depend on the crime you are charged with.

  1. Voluntary Manslaughter

In California, voluntary manslaughter is considered a felony with grave penalties. After a conviction, the court could issue the following sentences:

  • Probation with a maximum of one year in county jail
  • A sentence of 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison without probation
  • A strike on your record per California's three-strikes law. This could result in severe penalties for further offenses.
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Loss of the right to own a firearm in accordance with Penal Code 29800 PC (felon with a firearm law):
  • Community service mandated by a court
  • Mandatory counseling for anger control
  1. Involuntary Manslaughter

In most situations, prosecutors pursue involuntary manslaughter as a felony. Convictions could result in the following penalties:

  • Formal probation, often known as felony probation
  • 2, 3, or 4 years in a state prison are possible
  • A maximum of $10,000 in fines
  1. Vehicular Manslaughter

The penalties will vary depending on the specific crime.

Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence

As a wobbler offense, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence gives prosecutors leeway. You could face charges of either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on your background and the circumstances surrounding the incident.

If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you could face the following penalties:

  • A $1,000 maximum fine
  • A year in county jail
  • Misdemeanor probation

If you are convicted of a felony, you could face the following penalties:

  • Probation
  • Fines of up to $10,000, and
  • A maximum sentence of 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison

Vehicular Manslaughter While Engaged in an Unlawful Act

If the prosecutors pursue vehicular manslaughter charges with ordinary negligence, you could be convicted of a misdemeanor violation. The penalties for this violation include:

  • Misdemeanor probation
  • A $1,000 maximum fine
  • A year in county jail

Vehicular Manslaughter for Financial Gain

This is a separate felony with harsher consequences than the other subsections:

  • 4, 6, or 10 years in state prison
  • Fines of up to $10,000
  • Probation instead of incarceration
  • Your driver’s license revocation for a minimum of 3 years

Offenses Related to Manslaughter

  1. Murder

Penal Code 187 defines murder as the willful and unlawful killing of another person or fetus with premeditation. Although PC 187 establishes the foundation for charges of murder, the degree of murder that applies depends on the particulars of a case.

Under PC 187, murder comprises:

  • The victim's death must be the consequence of someone else's acts. Death from natural causes or suicides is not murder.
  • Victim — A human being at any stage of development, including a fetus, can, under some circumstances, be the victim.
  • Malice aforethought — This is the essential factor that separates manslaughter from murder. The term "malice aforethought" describes your state of mind at the time of the killing and can be either explicit or implicit.

Expressed malice is the deliberate desire to murder, as in the case of a well-thought-out ambush. On the other hand, implied malice refers to your indifference to human safety.

There are two degrees of murder:

  • First-degree murder — This type of murder necessitates premeditation, deliberate action, and malice with foresight. It also entails planning the act and considering its repercussions.
  • Second-degree murder — This type of murder does not require premeditation or deliberate thought, only malice. It could entail spontaneous kills that reveal a disregard for human life or a murderous aim.
  1. Watson Murder

The phrase "Watson murder" designates a particular kind of second-degree murder that results from a drunk driving incident. It is applicable in cases where impaired driving results in a deadly collision.

Some of the important elements prosecutors must prove include the following:

  • You were operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • You had a prior conviction for a DUI-related offense
  • Your actions showed evidence of implied malice — Implied malice means you acted with a deliberate disdain for other people's safety. It is assumed that drivers with a past DUI conviction are aware of the risks associated with driving while intoxicated, and their actions are viewed as a conscious decision that endangers other people.

Drivers are given a Watson admonition after being convicted of a DUI. This is a warning that driving under the influence poses a significant risk to other motorists. The warning further states that drivers could face murder charges if they are charged with murder if convicted of a subsequent DUI charge.

Therefore, you risk facing murder charges under PC 187 if you are convicted of a subsequent DUI offense.

Find a Violent Crimes Defense Attorney Near Me

It is evident that manslaughter charges are grave, and convictions could result in significant consequences. You do not have to face the charges alone. If you are facing manslaughter charges in Monterey, contact the Monterey Criminal Attorney for assistance. We will investigate every avenue of defense in detail. Please contact us at 831-574-1791 for further information.