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Negligent Homicide

Negligent Homicide in California - Penal Code 192(b) PC

In the state of California, negligent homicide refers to a situation where someone's negligent actions result in the death of another.

Negligent Homicide in California - Penal Code 192(b) PC
PC 192(b) negligent homicide is an act of criminal negligence resulting in someone's death.

This type of offense falls under the category of involuntary manslaughter (Penal Code 192(b) PC), in which a person's actions do not carry the malicious intent to kill but are nonetheless so patently negligent or dangerous that death occurs as a result. 

Simply put, negligent homicide is a criminal offense in which someone commits an act of criminal negligence that results in the taking of human life. Criminal negligence refers to conduct where someone ignores a known or obvious risk or disregards the life and safety of others. 

Under California law, negligent homicide cases are charged as involuntary manslaughter, defined under Penal Code 192(b) PC. Negligent homicide is charged as a felony, and a conviction could result in several years in prison.

PC 192(b) says, “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.

What is PC 192(b) Negligent Homicide?

Negligent homicide, as prosecuted under Penal Code 192(b) PC, is characterized as involuntary manslaughter. This occurs when a death results from:

  • A non-felony unlawful act or
  • During the commission of a lawful act which might produce death or
  • A failure to perform a duty that demonstrates a disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences. 

This statute does not apply to deaths resulting from deliberate acts, which are prosecuted under different sections of the penal code. Instead, the critical element of this crime is the level of negligence or carelessness involved.

The prosecution must prove several key elements to establish negligent homicide:

  • The defendant committed a negligent act or failed to perform a duty: This negligence must be considered a gross deviation from the standard conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the defendant's situation.
  • The negligence was dangerous to human life: The act must be inherently dangerous or done under circumstances likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
  • The negligent act caused the death of another person: There must be a direct causal link between the defendant's action or inaction and the victim's death.

Criminal Negligence vs. Ordinary Negligence

A critical aspect of prosecuting negligent homicide under PC 192(b) is establishing the presence of criminal negligence, which markedly differs from ordinary negligence, as follows:  

  • Ordinary negligence refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm.
  • Criminal negligence involves actions that are so reckless that they demonstrate a substantial lack of concern for the likelihood that such behavior could result in the death of another.

To secure a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with criminal negligence. 

This entails demonstrating that the defendant's actions were more than a mistake, judgment error, or an accident. Instead, it must be shown that the defendant's conduct was a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation.

What are Some Examples?

EXAMPLE 1: Mr. Allen, a homeowner, repairs a loose railing on his property's second-floor balcony. Despite following all safety guidelines and using appropriate tools for the repair, an unforeseen structural failure elsewhere in the balcony leads to a collapse, and a guest dies as a result.

Mr. Allen would not be guilty of negligent homicide because he had taken reasonable steps to maintain his property, and the cause of death was an unforeseeable problem, not Mr. Allen's negligence.

EXAMPLE 2: Geraldine, a restaurant manager, hires an unlicensed and inexperienced electrician to fix faulty wiring in the kitchen. The contractor's work causes an electrical fire, which results in the death of a customer.

In this case, it could be argued that Geraldine's decision to hire an unqualified person and her failure to ensure proper safety protocols were followed demonstrate criminal negligence, and she could be charged with negligent homicide.

What are the Penalties If Convicted?

In California, negligent homicide (i.e., involuntary manslaughter) is always charged as a felony. If you are convicted of this crime, the penalties include:

  • Imprisonment: Sentences can range from probation with no jail time to four years in state prison, depending on the circumstances of the case and the defendant's criminal history.
  • Fines: Defendants may also face fines up to $10,000.
  • Probation. A judge has the discretion to impose a defendant with formal felony probation in lieu of prison time. 

A conviction of negligent homicide can also result in other lasting negative implications, whether or not prison time is imposed. 

A felony conviction, for example, results in forfeiture of your right to own or possess a firearm. Likewise, if you hold a professional license, a felony conviction could result in revoking that license.

What are Related Crimes?

Several California laws are related to Penal Code 192(b) negligent homicide, such as the following:

  • Penal Code 192(a) PC voluntary manslaughter. This law makes it a crime when someone is killed during a sudden quarrel in the heat of passion or an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend yourself. 
  • Penal Code 191.5 PC gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. This law makes it a crime to commit vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). The district attorney must show that you acted with criminal and gross negligence to secure a conviction. 
  • Penal Code 187 PC murder. The serious crime of murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought. First-degree murder covers all premeditated killings as well as felony murder. Murder is the more severe form of manslaughter, and a conviction can result in a sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. 

What are the Common Defenses to Negligent Homicide Charges?

A skilled California criminal defense attorney can offer numerous defenses against negligent homicide charges under PC 192b. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Lack of Criminal Negligence: Arguing that your actions did not rise to criminal negligence is a common defense. This involves demonstrating that you acted as a reasonable person under similar circumstances.
  • Accident without Negligence: If the death resulted from an unforeseeable accident in which you were not acting negligently, this could serve as a defense.
  • Self-Defense or Defense of Others: In some cases, it may be argued that your actions, though resulting in death, were taken in self-defense or defense of others. Your attorney would show that you took appropriate action because of a perceived threat of imminent harm.

Contact our law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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