The term manslaughter is applied to any case of accidental death that results from a reckless act of another person.
There are two important considerations here. First, the death must have been caused by reckless actions. If the death of a person is caused due to negligence rather than recklessness, remedy for the loss of life can be sought through a wrongful death lawsuit in a civil courtroom.
The second important consideration is intention. If it is suspected that the accused caused the death of another person willfully and with intention then the case is tried as first or second degree murder.State Legislation
Manslaughter laws are covered under 720 ILCS 5/9. The law states that a person commits involuntary manslaughter when he or she recklessly performs acts that are likely to cause the death of another person and do cause the death of another person. The acts must have been performed without actual intention to kill the victim.
The legislation also covers abortion. The law states that a person commits involuntary manslaughter when he or she recklessly performs acts, whether lawful or unlawful, that are likely to cause the death of an unborn child and do cause the death of an unborn child.
The legislation also covers reckless homicide, which takes place when the death of another person is caused by the driving of a motor vehicle.
The charge of manslaughter can increase to aggravated manslaughter when one of the following is true.
- Two or more people are killed due to the actions of the accused
- The offense is committed in a school zone
- The offense is committed in a construction zone
- The offense takes place after failure to follow orders from a peace officer
- A peace officer is killed in the line of duty by the accused as a result of his or her actions
- The victim is a family or household member of the accused
Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 3 felony which can lead to a prison term of 2 – 5 years. Reckless homicide is similarly charged as a Class 3 felony.
Aggravated manslaughter can be charged as a Class 2 felony with a prison term of 3 – 7 years.Considerations
In most cases, the line between involuntary manslaughter and first or second degree murder is quite blurry. This fact is used by the prosecution which always aims to go for the highest possible conviction.
We have seen many trials where even the most obvious cases of involuntary or accidental deaths are brought forward with additional charges of murder by the State Attorney. The prosecution uses an aggressive strategy to convince the courts that the defended caused any deaths with intention and knowledge.
This strategy is used for two effects. First, it may divert the attention of the defense team who end up trying to deflect the murder charges. When put under pressure, a less experienced team may opt to take a plea bargain for settle for involuntary manslaughter or second degree murder with a reduced sentence. That may seem like a better option compared to the gloomy first degree murder conviction which is a Class X felony.
Second, the strategy is also used to convince the judge and jury about the defendant’s guilt. Once the judge or jury has built up a negative perception about the defendant, it becomes very difficult to get the not guilty verdict. In the face of overwhelming evidence of innocence, the judge or jury may still find the defendant guilty of manslaughter.Examples and Court Cases
In 2017, Linda Hoggard of Dixon was released on probation after her defense team was able to reveal major weaknesses in the prosecution’s case. The woman had been charged with manslaughter for causing a fatal overdose of her boyfriend who she had been living with.
The prosecution had built its case on testimony from three key witnesses. However, all three witnesses died within 18 months while the investigations were ongoing. A fourth key witness, the suspect’s own daughter, was caught lying in the court.
The defense attorney for Hoggard had asked for access to the witnesses while the accused was being held but could not be given access to question them. The case had also dragged on longer than three years.
The defense team had argued that Hoggard was being denied due process and all charges should be dismissed. In the end, the manslaughter charges were dropped by the prosecution in exchange for probation.
In a separate case, a woman from Urbana was sentenced for four years in prison for the fatal stabbing of the father of her child.
Sarah Kijanowski 27, had pleaded guilty earlier to the charge of second degree murder. She had also been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
According to the State Office Kijanowski and her child’s father Chase Yets had been arguing in their home when the incident took place. Mr. Yets allegedly pushed her and she took a knife and stabbed him in the chest as he came towards her.
The defense for Kijanowski used self-defense as the justification for the fatal stabbing. A second degree murder is charged as a Class 1 felony with minimum prison term of 4 years. The prosecution noted that the Judge punished Kijanowski for the minimum sentence, which means the decision was influenced by the arguments from the defense counsel.Possible Legal Defenses
The most successful defense strategy for charges of manslaughter is to argue from self defense or defense of another person in the area, such as a child. If there is reasonable proof beyond doubt that the death of the victim occurred due to actions of the defendant, then this strategy could get the charges dismissed.
The burden of proof lies on the defense team when arguing from self defense. A legal team experienced in such cases can make a significant difference during the trial.
Another strategy is to argue the lack of recklessness. If the defense can show that the death of the victim occurred due to negligence rather than carelessness, the charges may get dismissed.
In a case of abortion, the defense may also argue that the pregnant woman gave her consent for abortion. While this may not get the case dismissed completely, it can reduce the liability of the surgeon who performed the abortion.
Finally, the defendant may also completely deny involvement in the death of another person. We advise this defense to clients who are not responsible for the death of the victim and the investigating officers have simple caught the wrong person.
If you have not committed the crime, then there is no reason why you should not go for this strategy. This defense relies on aggressively challenging the evidence presented by the prosecution. It is highly recommended to be honest and open with your legal counsel and provide as much information to them as possible.
Always remember that your defense team is on your side and hiding things from them will only make your case weak during trial.