Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unintentional killing of a person during the commission of an unlawful act. Under South Carolina law, the penalty for involuntary manslaughter is up to five years' incarceration and a fine up to $25,000. South Carolina considers involuntary manslaughter a Class F felony, the lowest level of felony.
Criminal Negligence Required
A person charged with involuntary manslaughter may be convicted only if the state makes a showing of criminal negligence. Here, criminal negligence is defined as the reckless disregard of the safety of others. For example, a person could be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for:
- Forcing an employee to work outside in extreme heat or cold.
- Hitting a person while operating a vehicle in a criminally negligent manner.
- Accidentally discharging a firearm.
- Failing to control a dog or other dangerous animal with a history of attacking people.
A person who commits involuntary manslaughter could also be charged with other criminal offenses, such as reckless driving. In addition, the victim or family of the victim could sue the defendant in civil court for an unlawful killing resulting in a wrongful death.
Involuntary Manslaughter vs. Voluntary Manslaughter Charges
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as killing a person in a fit of anger or “in the heat of passion,” seemingly for a good reason. Voluntary manslaughter is intentional but unplanned. For example, a person could be charged for voluntary manslaughter for killing their spouse upon witnessing the spouse engaged in sexual relations with another partner.
The penalty for voluntary manslaughter is between two and 30 years' incarceration. Voluntary manslaughter differs from murder in that murder is the killing of another person with malice aforethought, either express or implied. Voluntary manslaughter lacks that element of planning, or “malice aforethought.”
Penalty for Assault and Battery
The state of South Carolina recognizes assault and battery as having four degrees of severity. They are:
- Assault and battery in the third degree, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 30 days in jail and a fine up to $500.
- Assault and battery in the second degree, a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to three years in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
- Assault and battery in the first degree, a felony, with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
- Aggravated assault and battery, a felony with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Assault and battery in the third degree involves the unlawful injuring of another person or the attempt to injure another person with the present ability to do so.
Degrees of Assault and Battery
Assault and battery in the second degree involves the unlawful injuring of another person with the present ability to do so and causes or has the possibility of causing moderate bodily injury, or touching the other person’s private parts without their consent, either under or above their clothing.
Assault and battery in the first degree involves the unlawful injuring of another person and an act resulting in touching the other person’s private parts with lewd and lascivious intent or occurring during the commission of a robbery, burglary, kidnapping or theft.
Alternatively, assault and battery in the first degree involves the unlawful injuring of another person, an offer or attempt to injure the other person with the present ability to do so, by an act accomplished by means likely to produce death or great bodily injury or occurring during the commission of a robbery, burglary, kidnapping or theft.
Aggravated Assault and Battery
Aggravated assault and battery involves the unlawful injuring of another person that causes great bodily injury, or an act accomplished by means likely to produce death or great bodily injury.
Representation by Criminal Defense Attorney
A criminal defense lawyer can assist a person accused of a violent crime, such as involuntary or voluntary manslaughter or assault and battery. The attorney may be available as a consultant for a client to ask questions or as a legal representative to argue for the client’s defense in court.
Under certain circumstances, such as the state lacking key witnesses or the presence of evidence that the defendant acted in self-defense, an attorney may choose to request that the client’s charge be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
An attorney cannot give a client a disclaimer, or statement to protect the law firm, to avoid liability for malpractice.
Pretrial Intervention Program
A defense attorney may be able to request that the state offer a client entry into a pretrial intervention (PTI) program. PTI is a diversion program intended for first-time, nonviolent offenders or offenders without a significant criminal history. Successful completion of PTI typically involves:
- No contact with the victim in the original case for the period defendant is involved in the program.
- Not being charged with a new case while the defendant is involved in the program.
- Paying applicable fees for the program, including application fee, participation fee, and cost of mental health counseling for defendant.
- Paying restitution (money damages) owed to the victim, if applicable.
- Attending counseling.
- Submitting to drug testing.
- Updating PTI program officers and the court with the defendant’s current address and phone number.
- Attending all scheduled monthly PTI appointments.
- Performing required community service hours.
- Providing PTI with arrest papers, picture ID and verification of Social Security number.
- Signing a forfeiture agreement for all weapon charges.
Benefits of PTI
If the defendant completes PTI successfully, the state will charge them with a civil offense such as an infraction, rather than a criminal charge, or drop the criminal charge altogether. The defendant may then apply for an order to destroy all official records relating to the arrest. The PTI office will provide information about expungement.
Eligibility for PTI
If a person violates the conditions of PTI, they will not be allowed to complete the program, and the case will be returned to criminal court. A person is typically eligible for PTI if they:
- Pose no threat to the community.
- Are unlikely to be involved in further criminal activity.
- Respond quickly to rehabilitative treatment.
- Have no prior significant history of juvenile delinquency or criminal activity.
- Have not previously been accepted into a PTI program.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.