Manslaughter is homicide that is generally a reckless act but not intentional (see exception for voluntary manslaughter). The definitions and sentences for manslaughter vary by the type of manslaughter and state law. There are also several kinds of California manslaughter in the California Penal Code. Even citizens who do nothing dangerous but drive a car should inform themselves about how to avoid potential criminal charges by studying the definitions of manslaughter in California and the possible sentence for committing these acts of homicide.
As of 2010, there are three types of California manslaughter in the California Penal Code: involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. Each of these California homicide crimes has its own range of possible sentences and definitions. Keep reading to see the definitions and possible jail or prison sentences for each type of manslaughter in California.
Note that all California manslaughter types are unlawful killings without malice. In other words, the killer does not have a “bad heart” but did something extremely careless or some other act that made the killing illegal.
California Involuntary Manslaughter
There are three basic ways to commit California involuntary manslaughter: 1) Unintentionally killing while committing an unlawful act that was not a felony; and 2) Unintentionally killing while performing a lawful act but in an unlawful manner; and 3) Unintentionally killing while performing a lawful act but without due caution and circumspection.
That is a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, which is why some manslaughter cases can be so controversial. It is hard to say exactly which acts will constitute involuntary manslaughter in California because phrases like “unlawful act” are very vague and can lead to differences of opinion.
So as a citizen, just keep in mind that you can go down for manslaughter for mere mistakes in judgment, particularly when doing something that is inherently dangerous. For example, playing with a gun that accidentally goes off and shoots someone could lead to involuntary manslaughter charges.
Note: California vehicular manslaughter is practically the same thing in many cases. But it is treated separately than this standard statute on involuntary manslaughter.
The general rule on sentences for involuntary manslaughter in California is either 2, 3 or 4 years in a state prison.
California Voluntary Manslaughter
This type of manslaughter is the one that could be an intentional killing. It does not rise to the level of self defense but is not considered murder, either. The act must occur upon a “sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” The classic example here is a spouse walking in on a husband or wife cheating. That is not to say that such an event is not murder because it depends on the facts of each case.
For example, if a person goes back the next day and shoots someone, that would almost never be voluntary manslaughter. It is actually more likely to be murder.
Voluntary manslaughter in California is punishable by either 3, 6 or 11 years in state prison.
California Vehicular Manslaughter
There are two main ways to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter in this state: killing without gross negligence while driving and committing an unlawful act that is not a felony; and driving in an unlawful manner and with gross negligence where the lawful act you are engaging in could kill someone.
Note that you may also be charged with vehicular manslaughter due to intoxication and could also be charged when operating a boat. When killing someone due to drunk driving, you can get up to 10 years just for the first conviction of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Alarmingly, you are looking at 15 years to life for some second offenses of driving while intoxicated that kills someone. In other words, if you have any history or driving while intoxicated, you had better not kill anyone while driving drunk unless you plan on losing your freedom for a very long time.
The sentence for vehicular manslaughter has a wide range, depending on the particular facts of each case. Sentences range from time in the county jail of a year or less to as much as 10 years in state prison (for causing an accident on purpose for financial gain like insurance).
California Penal Code (Index)
California Manslaughter Statutes (And Murder)