Involuntary Manslaughter Charges in Topeka
Involuntary manslaughter is one of seven different criminal homicide offenses in Kansas.
Any homicide charge must be taken extremely seriously but capital murder and first-degree murder are the most serious while involuntary manslaughter, vehicular homicide and assisting suicide are the least serious.
Involuntary manslaughter is known as “criminally negligent homicide” in some states as the death results from an accident due to the negligence of the at-fault party rather than malicious actions.
If you are charged with involuntary manslaughter, it’s important to understand what the crime encompasses, the penalties you may face, and what you need to do to defend yourself.
What’s the difference between murder and manslaughter in Kansas?
The most basic distinction in homicides is between murder and manslaughter.
Murder is one of the most serious crimes in all states and it has no statute of limitations in Kansas. It involves an unlawful killing committed with malice aforethought. Malice is the intention or desire to kill or cause serious bodily injury to another person.
Murder in itself is broken down into the following:
- Capital murder
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
All murders are intentional but the distinction between these offenses is based on whether there are aggravating circumstances and the level of preplanning that went into the killing.
Manslaughter is less serious than murder because it is done without malice (and may even be unintentional). The offense is also further broken down into voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
What’s the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?
If it is determined that a killing was done without malice, it cannot be prosecuted as murder in Kansas.
But if it is to be charged as manslaughter, another important decision must be made: whether the killing was intentional or not.
If the killing was intentional but the defendant didn’t plan to kill the victim, the homicide is usually charged as voluntary manslaughter.
However, unintentional homicides that result from recklessness, negligence, or occurred during an unlawful act that is not a dangerous felony, are usually charged as involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter laws in Kansas
Under Kansas Statutes section 21-3404 the crime of involuntary manslaughter is unintentionally killing a human being:
- During the commission of, attempt to commit, or flight from any felony or misdemeanor that is enacted to protect human life or safety other than the inherently dangerous felonies listed in section 21-3436, or
- During the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner
Despite it being the least serious type of manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter is a severity level 5 “person felony”. This can carry a penalty of extensive prison time, from a minimum of a 31-month sentence up to 136 months in the most serious cases.
If drugs or alcohol were involved in the commission of the crime, the offense rises to a more serious Level 4 felony charge.
Is vehicular homicide the same as involuntary manslaughter?
Vehicular homicide is closely related to involuntary manslaughter. Both involve the unintentional killing of another human being but Kansas has a special classification for killings that happen from the actions of a driver behind the wheel.
To be specific, vehicular homicide is the unintentional killing of a human by operating an automobile, airplane, or another motor vehicle “in a manner that creates an unreasonable risk of injury to the person or property of another”.
To be convicted of vehicular homicide, it must be proven that you deviated from the standard of care that “a reasonable person would observe under the same circumstances”. The victim could be another vehicle driver, a pedestrian, a passenger, a cyclist or any other road user.
Vehicular homicide is a class A misdemeanor. It is considered a slightly less serious offense than involuntary manslaughter. However, it can still carry a punishment of up to 12 months in jail.
A road user in Kansas can still be charged with involuntary manslaughter for killing another road user if the prosecution can show that the defendant displayed a reckless disregard for the safety of others.
Most commonly, this is when drugs or alcohol are involved and the prosecution claims that the defendant was operating a vehicle under the influence of either.
If this is the case and the actions of the driver result in the death of another road user, the charge is likely to be upgraded to a Level 4 felony offense. The presumptive sentence is prison under the Kansas Sentencing Guidelines.
Defending vehicular homicide or involuntary manslaughter charges
You always have a defense to vehicular homicide or involuntary manslaughter charges in Kansas. Hiring an experienced defense lawyer will provide your best possible chances of escaping the most serious punishments detailed above.
Sometimes, depending on circumstances, your defense lawyer can have the charge downgraded to a lesser charge to avoid prison time but this is far from straightforward. The prosecution has a duty to the family of the deceased to see justice served so these cases can be challenging for a defense team.
Most commonly with vehicular homicide, the allegations of chemical influence can be challenged as in standard DUI defense cases. Wrongly calibrated equipment or poorly trained police officers can skew breathalyzer readings and make them unreliable, for instance.
If the alcohol/drugs allegations can be questioned, the main aggravating factor may disappear from the charge. In such cases, there may be a chance to reduce the vehicular death from a level 4 felony to a level 5 offense, with probation instead of jail time. It could even be downgraded to a misdemeanor.
However, most of these cases are generally complex, requiring the expert testimony of professionals such as toxicologists, pharmacologists, pathologists, etc.
If you have any questions about voluntary/involuntary manslaughter or vehicular homicide in Kansas, speak to a criminal defense lawyer at ITR Law in Topeka during a free case evaluation, during which we will advise you of your legal options.
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