A charge of involuntary manslaughter comes with serious criminal penalties, including the possibility of prison time and a felony record. However, the Commonwealth must prove all of the elements of the offense before you can be convicted.
If you or someone you care for has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Virginia, Bryan J. Jones can provide you with the advice you need to best protect your rights. Never assume that you will be found guilty just because you are charged with a crime.
Involuntary Manslaughter: What is it?
Manslaughter is the killing of another human being when that killing is not premeditated. In Virginia, involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person unintentionally. Involuntary manslaughter is defined by Virginia case law and is not set forth in any part of the Virginia Code.
Involuntary manslaughter can result from committing some unlawful act which is not a felony which results in another person's death. It can also occur even if you commit a lawful act but perform it improperly in a way which is either criminally negligent or reckless. Conduct which shows indifference towards human life and an awareness that death was a probable result of a person's actions qualifies as criminal negligence.
What is Criminal Negligence?
Criminal negligence is conduct which is more than a mere accident or misadventure. It requires a level of recklessness or some indifference to the value of human life as demonstrated by a person's actions. Conduct which is "gross, wanton, or culpable as to show a reckless disregard of human life" constitutes criminal negligence.
Example: John is driving safely and legally down the highway when one of his new tires bursts, causing him to lose control of his vehicle. He tries everything in his power to regain control, slow down, and stop. However, he is unable to regain control of the car, which veers into oncoming traffic. He slams into Pam's car, killing her instantly. Because his conduct was not gross, wanton, or anything except an accident, he is unlikely to be determined to be "criminally negligent" in his conduct.
Example: Karen and her friend Nathan are racing their cars on the highway. Each is exceeding 100 miles per hour in their effort to reach the end of the race. Karen attempts to squeeze in between two cars to get ahead in the race but does not have enough room. She hits both cars, causing an accident. Two people die as a result. Her conduct shows a reckless disregard for the value of human life, and would be considered "criminally negligent."
Difference Between Common Law and DUI-Related Involuntary Manslaughter
In Virginia Code § 18.2-36.1 the Commonwealth of Virginia has defined a specific type of involuntary manslaughter which occurs as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. DUI-related involuntary manslaughter carries with it different aspects which the prosecutor must prove, and depending on the nature of the charge may carry enhanced criminal penalties.
Penalties for Conviction
If you are convicted of involuntary manslaughter, you are convicted of a Class 5 felony. The possible penalty ranges from one year in prison to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. You would also become a convicted felon, which would require you to answer "yes" to any question on a job application which asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony. As a result, you may find it more difficult to successfully find employment.
Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter Charges in Virginia
While every case is different, and different defenses may apply to your case, your Virginia criminal attorney can analyze the unique facts of your case to present the best defense. Some of the following could be used to prevent or reduce your conviction.
Present Reasonable Doubt
The Virginia prosecutor is required to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every element of the charge of involuntary manslaughter. Your criminal defense attorney can show that there are inconsistencies in the prosecutor's case, creating doubt in the mind of the jury. Your attorney can also attempt to show that you were not the guilty party, or your conduct did not cause the deceased's death.
Challenge the "Criminally Negligent" Conduct
To be convicted of the crime of involuntary manslaughter under the common law, the Virginia prosecutor must prove that you were criminally negligent. Your defense attorney can present evidence and testimony to challenge this aspect of the prosecutor's case, to instead show that the conduct was accidental. If the conduct did not rise to the level of criminal negligence, the charge cannot stand.
In many cases, eyewitness identification can simply be wrong. A suspect may be innocent and be accused of a crime only because he or she looks vaguely like the individual who actually committed the crime. With proper investigation and a challenge from your attorney, the jury can see the many problems with eyewitness identification.
Further, police line-ups must conform to specific constitutional requirements. If the line up which was used to identify you was not properly performed, that evidence against you could be suppressed.
Suppression of Certain Evidence
Suppression is a legal mechanism which excludes evidence which was wrongfully acquired by the prosecution. If law enforcement did not follow the constitutional requirements for the collection of evidence, such as when a warrant is required, that evidence which was wrongfully obtained can be excluded from your case. In some instances, this can result in the dismissal of your charges, especially if the evidence excluded connected you in some way to the case.
Consult Your Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney
A felony conviction for involuntary manslaughter has serious consequences including substantial prison time. Understanding the case law which defines this charge is critical to your defense. An experienced Virginia attorney knows the common law and will use it to defend your case. Even if the police and prosecutor treat you like you are guilty, you still have legal rights and defenses.
Contact Virginia criminal defense attorney Bryan J. Jones to fight for your constitutional rights throughout the criminal process. He represents clients in Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the surrounding counties.