“Involuntary Manslaughter” is different than all of the other homicide crimes because it does not require any intent to kill, hence calling it “involuntary.”>
NRS 200.070 defines “Involuntary Manslaughter” as:
- Except under the circumstances provided in NRS 484B.550 and 484B.653, involuntary manslaughter is the killing of a human being, without any intent to do so, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act which probably might produce such a consequence in an unlawful manner, but where the involuntary killing occurs in the commission of an unlawful act, which, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent, the offense is murder.
- Involuntary manslaughter does not include vehicular manslaughter as described in NRS484B.657.
That’s difficult to follow, what does it mean?
The only part of this statute that you need to concentrate on is the part that states: “involuntary manslaughter is the killing of a human being, without any intent to do so, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act which probably might produce such a consequence in an unlawful manner.”
What about the rest of the statute?
The rest of the statute refers to acts that are not involuntary manslaughter.
The first clause in subsection 1 states: “Except under the circumstances provided in NRS 484B.550 and 484B.653.
The second half of subsection 1 states: “but where the involuntary killing occurs in the commission of an unlawful act, which, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent, the offense is murder.”
Subsection 2 states: “Involuntary manslaughter does not include vehicular manslaughter as described in NRS 484B.657.”
In other words, “involuntary manslaughter” does not apply to any of the circumstances described in the NRS 484B.550, 484B.653, 484B.657, or the second half of subsection 1. All of those are separate crimes that are explained elsewhere.
Okay, so then, what does “involuntary manslaughter” apply to?
As with most crimes, the definition of “involuntary manslaughter” is somewhat vague, giving the prosecutors a lot of discretion in when to charge someone.
Essentially, involuntary manslaughter applies to 2 situations: it can be applied whenever someone dies as the result of carelessness or negligence (often referred to as criminally negligent manslaughter), and it can also apply when someone dies as the result of an illegal act that is not a felony (sometimes called constructive manslaughter).
When does criminally negligent manslaughter apply?
Criminally negligent manslaughter can apply whenever someone causes another person’s death through carelessness, negligence, or irresponsibility. Some common examples include:
- Someone dying after consuming poison that you left out;
- You are out hunting and accidentally shoot someone, mistaking them for an animal.
Although these are very obvious examples, there are many situations where criminally negligent manslaughter might apply even though they are less obvious.:
- If you were in the woods and firing a bow and arrow into the area indiscriminately when it hits someone in the head, killing them;
- A mother takes legally prescribed medication which then passes to her infant child through breastfeeding (assume the prescribing doctor did not know she was breastfeeding), killing the child;
- During a basketball game, one player accidentally hits another in the neck, while fighting to get the ball, killing him.
As you can see, it is difficult to define exactly when involuntary manslaughter might apply, this is why prosecutors are given the discretion to decide when to charge someone.
When does constructive manslaughter apply?
This is somewhat easier to identify. If you are breaking the law in a way that is not a felony, and someone dies as a result, then you can be charged with involuntary manslaughter. If, in the example above, the breastfeeding mother were not taking legally prescribed medication, but were instead using illegal narcotics, and the baby died as a result of the drugs being passed through breastfeeding, then she would be guilty of involuntary manslaughter by reason of constructive manslaughter.
Constructive manslaughter applies whenever someone disregards a rule or law designed to protect human life, and as a result, someone dies.
Please Note: While criminally negligent manslaughter and constructive manslaughter are explained separately here, they are not separate crimes, they are different types of the same crime, involuntary manslaughter.
Okay, so what are the penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter?
Involuntary Manslaughter is a category D felony in Nevada, which means that it carries with it:
- A prison sentence of between 1 and 4 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
- Possible fines up to $5,000.00.
Why are the penalties so much lesser than for other types of murder?
The reason for the lessened penalties should be fairly obvious, it is homicide that occurs involuntarily, in other words, with no intent to kill. Every form of homicide, other than involuntary manslaughter and some forms of second-degree murder, require intent to kill the victim. It is because of this intent that they are seen as worse crimes than those that do not require an intent to kill.
What are the differences between Second-Degree Murder and Involuntary Manslaughter?
As explained here, second-degree murder is any murder that does not fall into First-Degree Murder. Consequently, second-degree murder does not require an intent to kill, which is why it is often linked to involuntary manslaughter. However, in cases where there is no intent to kill, second-degree murder can only apply where the activity causing the victim’s death goes beyond simple negligence, and rises to the level of recklessness.
The easiest way to think about the difference is that conduct that can become involuntary manslaughter is careless, or irresponsible, such as firing a bow and arrow into the air, while conduct that can become second-degree murder is that which is typically tends to cause death, such as playing Russian roulette.
Are there any defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter?
There are a few defenses to a charge of Involuntary Manslaughter:
- Self-Defense – As with any homicide charge, self-defense is a complete defense, meaning that if you can show that you were facing imminent bodily harm, or the threat thereof, then the charges against you will be dropped. However, this only applies if your reactions were reasonable, under the circumstances.
- Lack of an unlawful act or negligent behavior – If the prosecutor cannot prove that you acted negligently or unlawfully, or that the death was nothing more than an accident, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
- Procedural Errors – As with any crime, if your attorney can show that the investigating officers committed illegal procedural errors, such as an illegal search, or the contamination of evidence, then the tainted evidence will be suppressed, or thrown out. If there is not enough evidence to convict you after evidence has been suppressed, then the charges against you may be dropped or dismissed.
What is the difference between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?
The difference should be fairly easy to see, just by looking at the title of the two crimes. Voluntary Manslaughter exists where the accused intended to kill the victim, even if the accused was not in a proper state of mind at the time. In other words, the accused voluntarily killed the victim, given the circumstances.
Involuntary Manslaughter, on the other hand is a killing where the accused had no intent to kill the victim. Instead, the victim died as the result of recklessness or negligence.
What else should I know?
The Nevada State Crime of involuntary manslaughter is almost identical to the federal crime. The most important difference is that the federal crime carries with it a possible prison sentence of eight years, twice as long as the penalty for the state crime.
Involuntary Manslaughter is a common plea bargain in murder cases. Generally, if the prosecution is not completely convinced that they have enough evidence to prove a murder charge, they will offer a plea of involuntary manslaughter so as to not have to dismiss the case.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Involuntary Manslaughter?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.