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Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter charges arise in cases where an “unlawful killing” has occurred “unintentionally”. Involuntary manslaughter cases are not brought against a person for a pure accident. The Commonwealth is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to commit an act that was the direct cause of the death.

The law separates these acts into two categories. The first is when a person intends to act in a “wanton or reckless” manner that results in a death. The second type is involuntary manslaughter caused by a battery.

Involuntary Manslaughter involving wanton or reckless conduct

To prove involuntary manslaughter by wanton or reckless conduct the Commonwealth must show:

  1. The defendant caused the victim’s death;
  2. The defendant intended the conduct that caused the death;
  3. The defendant’s conduct was wanton and reckless.
What is Wanton or Reckless Conduct?

Massachusetts law defines wanton or reckless conduct as conduct that creates a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will be caused to another person. For example, a person can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for stealing a purse from an elderly person if:

  • The elderly person dies
  • The defendant intended to steal the purse
  • A reasonable person would understand that stealing a purse from an elderly woman would result in a substantial likelihood that the elderly person would suffer serious harm

An intentional omission or failure to act can also be determined to be wanton and reckless if it creates a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another. Under this theory, the defendant charged must have a duty to prevent harm to another.

For example, in Massachusetts, a person can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for failing to report a fire if they had a duty to report the fire. In 2002, the court held that a homeless couple who started a fire that killed six firemen had a duty to prevent harm to others because they created the dangerous situation. Their failure to report the fire or attempt to control it constituted an intentional wanton and reckless failure to act.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter Occurring during the Commission of a Battery?

Involuntary manslaughter may also be charged by conduct that involves a battery. Under this theory the Commonwealth must prove that the defendant:

  1. caused the victim’s death;
  2. intentionally committed a battery.

A battery for the purposes of an involuntary manslaughter charge occurs when the “touching” or contact by the defendant is so violent that the defendant knew, or should have known, would cause a high degree of likelihood of substantial harm to another. An example of this type of battery would be physically abusing a baby. The person may not intend to kill the baby, however a reasonable person would assume that abusing a baby would likely cause serious injury.

An Involuntary Manslaughter conviction can have lifelong implications and lead to significant jail or prison time. These cases however are defensible. Your attorney may be able to introduce evidence showing that you did not have a duty to act, that the battery was self defense or that you were not even present when the act occurred. It is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific case. DelSignore Law has offices throughout the state and can be reached at 781-686-5924.