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Understanding Involuntary Manslaughter Laws in California
- Penal Code §192(b) -

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Involuntary Manslaughter Charges - PC 192

Involuntary manslaughter is a serious offense in California criminalized under Penal Code section 192(b). Involuntary manslaughter is a form of homicide that involves the unintentional killing of another person. Unlike voluntary manslaughter, which often requires proof a killing was committed upon sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion, involuntary manslaughter typically arises from negligent or reckless behavior that leads to an unintended fatality.

Whenever someone is facing charges for involuntary manslaughter, it is essential that the person understand the nature of the charges, the potential consequences, and any available defenses. This informational guide provides an in-depth overview of involuntary manslaughter charges in California and aims to clarify the complexities of the legal system. The goal of this guide is to assist those charged with involuntary manslaughter in making informed decisions during what can be a challenging and emotional experience.

Penal Code §192(b) States:


"Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:

(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to a felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle."

1.  How California Defines Involuntary Manslaughter

In California, involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unintentional killing of a human being, where the death was the result of negligent or reckless behavior, or the commission of a non-felony crime. This type of manslaughter is distinct from voluntary manslaughter and murder, which require an intent to kill or a more direct cause of death.

California Penal Code Section 192(b) outlines the requirements of an involuntary manslaughter charge. It states that involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person, without intent to kill, causes the death of another person by either:

  • Criminal Negligence: This occurs when someone's actions are so reckless or careless that they create a high risk of death or serious injury to others. Criminal negligence goes beyond ordinary negligence or carelessness, indicating a disregard for the safety of others.


  • Unlawful Acts: Involuntary manslaughter can also result from the commission of a crime that is not a felony (such as a misdemeanor), where the act itself is inherently dangerous or is performed in a dangerous manner, leading to the death of another person.

It's important to note that involuntary manslaughter does not involve malice or intent to kill. Instead, it addresses situations where someone's irresponsible or dangerous behavior unintentionally causes a fatality. Common scenarios might include workplace accidents, or even medical negligence. Excluded from the definition of involuntary manslaughter are acts committed while driving a vehicle. An unintentional killing committed while driving a vehicle is criminalized as vehicular manslaughter.

Understanding the circumstances that lead to an involuntary manslaughter charge is critical for anyone facing such a serious offense in California.

2.  Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter in California

In California, involuntary manslaughter is categorized as a felony offense that carries serious consequences. Despite not requiring a specific intent to kill, the seriousness of the penalties reflects the gravity of a charge for involuntary manslaughter. Understanding these penalties is crucial when considering whether to take a case to trial or settle a case in exchange for a more lenient punishment.

Incarceration –

The primary penalty for involuntary manslaughter in California is imprisonment. If convicted, an individual can face a prison sentence ranging from two to four years in a California state prison. The exact length of the sentence depends on various factors, including the specific circumstances of the case, the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any, and other mitigating or aggravating factors. A judge is responsible for determining how much prison time is appropriate in each case.  

Fines –

In addition to imprisonment, a person convicted of involuntary manslaughter may be ordered to pay significant fines. The fines can amount to several thousand dollars, adding a considerable financial burden to the penalties.

Restitution –

In addition to the financial burden caused by the potential fines related to involuntary manslaughter, the court may also order the defendant to pay restitution.  The purpose of restitution is to compensate the victim's family for financial losses related to the death. Restitution can include funeral expenses, medical costs, lost income, and other damages that directly resulted from the victim’s death.

Indirect Consequences –

A conviction for involuntary manslaughter can also have indirect consequences. A conviction can impact employment opportunities, housing, and other aspects of everyday life. Furthermore, a conviction for involuntary manslaughter will result in a felony being added to the person’s criminal record, which can affect personal and professional relationships, a non-citizen's immigration status, and more. 

Given the severity of these penalties, individuals facing involuntary manslaughter charges in California should seek legal counsel immediately. The skilled defense attorney at JPLaw, P.C. can help navigate the legal process, explore potential defenses, and work to mitigate the consequences of the charges.

3.  Probation for Involuntary Manslaughter in California

In some cases, the court may sentence someone convicted of involuntary manslaughter to formal probation.  Although probation for involuntary manslaughter is possible, it is not a guarantee.  Probation is a form of leniency that a court has discretion to impose and is usually reserved for cases involving mitigating circumstances. This section explores the circumstances under which probation might be granted for involuntary manslaughter and what conditions it may entail.

Eligibility for Probation –

The decision to grant probation in cases of involuntary manslaughter depends on various factors. The court will consider the specifics of the case, the defendant's criminal history, their behavior leading up to and following the incident, and any mitigating circumstances. The court will weigh these factors to determine whether probation is appropriate or if a prison sentence is more suitable.

Conditions of Probation –

If probation is granted, the court will impose various conditions – sometimes called “terms of probation” – that the defendant must adhere to. These conditions are designed to ensure public safety and help rehabilitate the defendant. Failure to comply with probation conditions can result in additional penalties, including imprisonment. Common probation conditions for involuntary manslaughter might include:

Regular Check-Ins: The defendant must regularly report to a probation officer to ensure compliance with the terms of their probation.  Frequent check-ins are common at first but become less frequent as more time goes by without the defendant violating any of the terms of probation.

Community Service: The court may require the defendant to perform community service as part of their rehabilitation.

Mandatory Counseling: Participation in counseling or therapy sessions may be required, particularly if the incident involved issues like substance abuse or anger management.

Drug or Alcohol Testing: If the incident involved substance use, the court may mandate regular testing to ensure sobriety.

Restrictions on Travel and Associations: The court may limit the defendant's travel or prohibit contact with certain individuals.

Incarceration: A condition of probation may also require the defendant to serve time in county jail.  This is separate from the imprisonment mentioned above.  

Inmate Handcuffed

A judge can also order that the defendant be imprisoned in jail as a condition of the defendant's probation. 

Consequences of Violating Probation –

Violating any of the terms of probation can have serious consequences. A defendant that fails to comply with the terms of their probation can have their probation revoked and sentenced to up to the maximum term of imprisonment. Additionally, a probation violation can result in additional charges being filed against the defendant.

Given the strict nature of probation and the potential consequences of non-compliance, individuals placed on probation for involuntary manslaughter should follow all conditions carefully and maintain open communication with their probation officer. Legal counsel can also be a valuable tool when navigating the complexities of probation and ensuring successful completion of all the terms.

4.  Common Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter in California

Involuntary manslaughter is a serious charge, but those accused always have the right to present a defense. There are countless legal strategies that can be used to challenge the charges or mitigate the consequences. This section explores some of the more common defenses to involuntary manslaughter charges and how they are used to attain a positive outcome.

Lack of Criminal Negligence –

One way of prosecuting involuntary manslaughter is by proving that the death was caused by the defendant’s criminal negligence.  When involuntary manslaughter is prosecuted in that way, showing the accused was NOT criminally negligent becomes extremely important.  


Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with criminal negligence when he or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury. A defense strategy may involve demonstrating that the defendant's actions did not rise to the level of criminal negligence by showing that the defendant acted with reasonable care or that the incident was a genuine accident.

Absence of Unlawful Act –

Involuntary manslaughter can also be charged when a death results during the commission of a non-felony unlawful act. If the defense can show that the defendant's actions did not constitute a crime, the basis for the involuntary manslaughter charge may be invalidated. This defense often involves questioning the interpretation of the underlying act or its connection to the resulting death.

Lack of Causation –

An essential component to convict someone of involuntary manslaughter is a clear causal link between the defendant's actions and the victim's death. A defense strategy may focus on demonstrating that the defendant's conduct was not the direct cause of the fatality. This could involve presenting evidence of intervening factors, medical issues, or alternative explanations for the cause of death.

Every involuntary manslaughter case is unique, and the best defense strategy depends on the specific circumstances involved. A successful defense may require a combination of approaches and a thorough examination of the facts. For those facing involuntary manslaughter charges in Orange County, seeking experienced legal counsel JPLaw, P.C. is crucial to develop an effective defense.

Contact An Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer 

John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan is a trusted Orange County criminal defense lawyer that prides himself on his ability to communicate with clients as he helps them navigate our complex criminal justice system.


Attorney Mullen-Lujan was named one of the Best Criminal Defense Lawyers in Orange and Newport Beach. Hire an attorney you can trust and who can provide the zealous advocacy you need.


Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation with local Orange County criminal defense lawyer John-Patrick Mullen-Lujan. Together you will review your case and develop a legal defense strategy tailored just for you!


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JPLaw, P.C.

Orange County Law Office

Old Town Orange Office

410 N Clark St.
Orange, CA 92868

Phone: (949) 991-7057

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