CA Penal Code 192

Manslaughter

Definition of the Crime under California Penal Code 192

Under 192 of the CA Penal Code, manslaughter is defined as killing a human being illegally but without malice aforethought.

“Malice aforethought” is either “express”, as when a person intentionally and unlawfully kills, or “implied”, as when all four of the following can be established:

  • the action of killing was intentional,
  • human life was endangered by the natural results of the action,
  • the person knew the action endangered life, and
  • the action shows a knowing disregard for any human life.

This malice aforethought component sets manslaughter apart from murder. Whereas a charge for murder requires affirmative proof of malice aforethought, a manslaughter charge is brought when there was no malice. We use the term “mitigation” for changing a charge of murder to one of voluntary manslaughter, essentially having no malice aforethought. When someone admits to killing another person (so he or she actually committed murder) yet under the circumstances, this act of killing is just not the same as killing in cold blood, the killer would be justified in pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt Standard

In order to charge any person with a crime, the prosecution must successfully prove every element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. Failure to meet any one of the elements results in failure to prove the crime as charged.

Types of Manslaughter in California

The Penal Code specifically distinguishes between 3 types of manslaughter, namely:

(1) Voluntary manslaughter:

  • a heat-of-passion type of killing, as when your passion (anger or emotion) is suddenly provoked, so you enter into a fight and you end up killing the other person; or
  • imperfect self-defense (you made a mistake in judgment so you used a deadly weapon when you shouldn’t have, or you thought you needed to defend yourself or someone else, when in fact you shouldn’t have); (CA Penal Code § 192 (a))

Defenses to a Charge of Manslaughter

Both legal and procedural defenses may be helpful to your successful defense.

Legal Defenses

1. Self-defense

If you kill someone else under circumstances that would make any reasonable person in your situation fear for his or her own life, or created a fear of serious bodily injury, and that threat was immediate, the court will, in all probability, excuse your act of taking the life of the other person. The court will reason that your act of killing someone under these circumstances was justified.

What would not be helpful to your defense would be if someone said something quarrelsome to you and you reacted by killing the person. The court would likely charge the killer with murder in this situation because the killer would not be placed in immediate threat of death or great bodily harm.

2. Defense of another

If another person’s life is placed in an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury by another person, you can use reasonable force to protect the person, and should that force applied then cause the death of the person threatening the harm, you will likely also be legally excused. Again, this excuse is based on the court’s reasoning that killing another person under these same circumstances is justified.

3. Imperfect self-defense

To reduce a charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter, either your belief as to deadly force was wrong, or your belief that the danger threatening you was immediate was mistaken. This defense will not completely excuse your killing, so you will still be charged with a crime and face sentencing, but your sentence will be mitigated (reduced) to a lesser (less serious) sentence.

4. Heat of passion

The act of killing someone can be excused under “heat of passion”. Although heat of passion doesn’t require rage, it does involve intense and immediate arousal of passion in the mind of a reasonable person, causing the person to lose self-control. Some acts that would cause a reasonable person to lose self-control that have been recognized by the courts include finding your spouse in bed with another person, or when you are under immediate threat of death or great bodily harm or assault.

5. An accidental killing

Only true accidents, from an act done legally (not from  an illegal act), without intent to kill, will excuse an act of killing.

6. Lack of causation

Your criminally negligent act was not the factual or legal (proximate) cause of the victim’s death.

7. Insanity

California has adopted the M’Naghten Test, which is an insanity defense based on proving either that you did not know your act of killing another person was wrong, or you did not understand that what you were doing was a lethal act capable of killing a human being. Successfully pleading and proving insanity submits you to observation by the state in a mental institution, subject to release when the state judges you to be no longer insane.

Punishment and Sentencing: Voluntary Manslaughter

Under 193 (a) of the California Penal Code, voluntary manslaughter is punishable by three, six or eleven years in a California state prison.

(2) Involuntary manslaughter:

This is where a person kills someone else but the killer did not intend to kill the victim, and did not kill in such a way as to show he or she lacks total respect for human life (CA Penal Code § 192(b)). Although they sometimes look the same, negligence for involuntary manslaughter is actually significantly different to reckless acts for murder convictions.

To illustrate this important difference, consider these examples: While driving within the speed limit, if you ran a red light (an unlawful act) simply because you were not observant, and your running the red light causes a pedestrian to die, you will be charged with involuntary manslaughter because your reason for killing someone (not being observant) doesn’t by itself show total disrespect for human life. It is a lesser crime because it is based on negligence, a less culpable failure to do the right thing.

On the other hand, if you were to run a red light, even after having applied the brakes from a speed of 84 miles per hour, and you had consumed inordinate quantities of beer at a city bar, and this act killed passengers in a car, the prosecution will have a very good chance of proving murder, instead of involuntary manslaughter. Why? Because this act was done with a “conscious disregard” for the risk of death, given that you go to a bar to drink, have awareness of your alcoholic consumption and intoxication while drinking, know that a car, which you control, is an extremely powerful and potentially dangerous machine capable of killing others, and choose to drive at excessively high speeds on a public road. All of this establishes a severe lack of respect for lives of others, so the prosecution could prove malice (specifically “implied” malice), and a finding of malice establishes a conviction for murder. (People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290).

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter

Legal Defenses

1. Self-defense

If you kill someone else under circumstances that would make any reasonable person in your situation fear for his or her own life, or created a fear of serious bodily injury, and that threat was immediate, the court will, in all probability, excuse your act of taking the life of the other person. The court will reason that your act of killing someone under these circumstances was justified.

What would not be helpful to your defense would be if someone said something quarrelsome to you and you reacted by killing the person. The court would likely charge the killer with murder in this situation because the killer would not be placed in immediate threat of death or great bodily harm.

2. Defense of another

If another person’s life is placed in an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury by another person, you can use reasonable force to protect the person, and should that force applied then cause the death of the person threatening the harm, you will likely also be legally excused. Again, this excuse is based on the court’s reasoning that killing another person under these same circumstances is justified.

3. An accidental killing

Where the defense can prove a true accident caused the death of another person, from an act done legally (not from an illegal act), without intent to kill, and without negligence, the act of killing will be excused.

4. Lack of causation

Your criminally negligent act was not the actual or legal (proximate) cause of the person’s death.

Punishment and Sentencing: Involuntary Manslaughter

Under 193 (b) of the California Penal Code, involuntary manslaughter can be punished for a length of either two, three or four years in a California state prison.

(1) Vehicular manslaughter:

Under the California Penal Code Section 192 (c), vehicular manslaughter consists of 5 different types of offenses:

Type 1: Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – A More Serious Charge

Gross Negligence Standard Applies

This type of manslaughter necessarily involves driving a vehicle while committing the act that causes death of a victim.

To prove vehicular manslaughter in California,

  1. You must be driving or operating a vehicle
  2. You were driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of an alcohol-containing beverage (blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher for adults, and 0.05 or higher for minors under the age of 21) or a drug, or both substances
  3. You also committed some misdemeanor or infraction (an unlawful act, but not a felony) while driving or operating a vehicle (but note: the unlawful act or offense may not be a DUI offense)
  4. You were acting in a grossly negligent way
  5. Your grossly negligent conduct also caused the death of a victim
  • What is “gross negligence”?

This term has a different meaning to ordinary “negligence”. The term “negligence” by itself means careless, inattentive or mistaken judgment. But, when you act with “gross negligence”, you act with such a great amount of recklessness that you can cause someone’s death, or great injury to a person, and anyone should reasonably know that this type of act is sure to create this high a risk. (This is known as the reasonable person standard).

  • What is the difference between “gross negligence” and “ordinary negligence”?

The difference between “gross” and “ordinary” negligence amounts to degrees of lack of care. The higher the degree of recklessness involved, the more likely it is that the court will rule the act was “gross” negligence. Gross negligence, as defined above, is a great amount of recklessness, so much that it subjects the victim to almost certain death. On the other hand, ordinary negligence is doing some act without using reasonable care to prevent harm, and reasonable care would be used by anyone in your same position. Ordinary negligence does not subject someone to almost certain death, so it is not considered as serious as “gross” negligence, and therefore, the offense of “vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated” is considered a “lesser charge” compared to “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated”.

  • Are there any differences in sentencing and punishment for “ordinary” negligence as opposed to “gross” negligence?

Yes. Where the prosecution can successfully prove “gross vehicular manslaughter” or “gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated”, the prosecutor can exercise his or her discretion to charge you EITHER with a misdemeanor, OR, more seriously, with a felony. This is known as a “wobbler” under California criminal law, depending on many factors surrounding your case, as well as your own criminal background.

If you should be charged with “gross” negligence in either of these offenses, you will face a prison sentence for two, four or six years, based on the circumstances of the crime. You could also face financial charges up to $10,000.

However, should you be charged with “ordinary” negligence or “misdemeanor” manslaughter (see specifically “Type 2” and “Type 4” below), then a lighter sentence will follow. You’ll be charged with a misdemeanor of up to maximum one year jail time, and possibly also face financial charges amounting to $1,000.

  • What is the difference between an “infraction”, a “misdemeanor”, and a “felony”?

Under California Penal Code § 19.8, an infraction is the type of unlawful act that is only punishable by a maximum fine of $250. So you’ll never go to jail for committing an infraction. Infractions are considered to be some of the least serious transgressions, and in California include mostly traffic code violations. An infraction is a crime that carries with it a maximum punishment of one year jail time and may also carry some monetary costs payable by the person charged with this type of crime. By contrast, a felony is considered the most serious of all crimes, and carries with it a sentence amounting to any number of years, depending on the severity of the crime.

 

Type 2: Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated – A Lesser Charge

Ordinary Negligence Standard Applies

For this type of manslaughter, which involves ordinary negligence – as opposed to “gross” negligence above – it must be proven that:

  1. You were driving or operating a vehicle
  2. You were driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of an alcohol-containing beverage (blood alcohol level of 0.08 or higher for adults, and 0.05 or higher for minors under the age of 21) or a drug, or both substances
  3. You also committed some misdemeanor or infraction (an unlawful act, but not a felony) while driving or operating a vehicle
  4. You were acting with ordinary negligence
  5. This ordinary negligence caused the death of the victim

Type 3: Gross Vehicular Manslaughter – A Lesser Charge (No Intoxication)

Gross Negligence Standard Applies

This type of manslaughter requires proof that:

  1. You were driving or operating a vehicle
  2. You committed some misdemeanor or infraction (an unlawful act, but not a felony) while driving or operating a vehicle
  3. You were acting with gross negligence in committing this act while driving or operating a vehicle
  4. The cause of death of the victim was due to gross negligence

Again, the same gross negligence standard applies as under “Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated”. However, it is a lesser charge because the killer is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when causing death of a victim.

Type 4: Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter – A Lesser Charge (No Intoxication)

Ordinary Negligence Standard Applies

The following must be proved to establish this crime:

  1. You were driving or operating a vehicle
  2. You committed some misdemeanor or infraction (an unlawful act, but not a felony) while driving or operating a vehicle
  3. You were acting with ordinary negligence in committing this act while driving or operating a vehicle
  4. This ordinary negligence caused the victim’s death

As with “Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated” explained above, ordinary negligence applies. This charge is considered to be a lesser charge compared to “Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated” because the driver was not intoxicated, but criminally negligent.

Type 5: Vehicular Manslaughter: Collision for Financial Gain

To charge you with this offense, it must be established that:

  1. You knowingly caused, or knowingly took part in a collision
  2. At the same time, you took part in this collision for financial gain by filing a false insurance claim
  3. You intended to perpetrate insurance fraud
  4. The collision that ensued caused a victim’s death

Punishment for Vehicular Manslaughter: Collision for Financial Gain

If you commit ‘auto insurance fraud’, you face felony charges of four, six or even ten years in prison, and you may have to bear financial charges of a maximum of $10,000.

Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter

  1. Act of killing was in response to a true emergency

Here, the court will give a separate instruction on a “sudden and unexpected” emergency that arose and as a result of which you ended up killing someone in your vehicle. The court will also apply a more appropriate standard to your case, so it will not apply the “reasonable” person standard. Rather, it will look to what an “ordinary, careful” person would do under your exact emergency circumstances.

  1. Lack of causation

Your act of driving or operating the vehicle in the situation was neither the actual nor legal (proximate) cause of the victim’s death.

Speeding Violations in California

The California Vehicle Code contains 3 distinct code sections under which speeding violations can be brought:

  1. Violation of Maximum Speed Law (Vehicle Code 22349
  2. Violation of Basic Speed Law (Vehicle Code 22350)
  3. Violation of Prima Facie Speed Law (Vehicle Code 22351, 22352)

Procedural Defenses Applicable to All Manslaughter Charges

  1. Fourth Amendment Violations: Law enforcement searched and seized incriminating property unreasonably in violation of the 4th Amendment (this is a complex analysis, but you were essentially in a position where you did not feel free to decline an officer’s requests, which resulted in obtaining incriminating evidence against you). Article I, Section 13 of the California Constitution, and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States.
  1. Fifth Amendment Violations: Law enforcement used official compulsion to get you to confess to murder or manslaughter charges against your free will or to make some sort of incriminating statement. Article I, Sections 7 & 15 of the California Constitution, and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States. Mistaken line-up identifications are included.

Call Us for a FREE Case Review: 310-274-6529

Read our last articles

Recent Victories

Loading Quotes...

Case Evaluation

We Respond Immediately

Call Now For a Free Case Review
Seppi Esfandi

© 2017 Los Angeles Criminal Defense & DUI Attorney Seppi Esfandi | Seppi Esfandi Law Scholarship