Involuntary Manslaughter Sentence: What Do Lawyers Need To Know?

Updated January 22, 2024
7 min read
Involuntary Manslaughter Sentence: What Do Lawyers Need To Know?


Involuntary manslaughter, unlike other homicides, involves no deliberate intent to kill but rather results from criminal negligence or reckless behavior. Despite being less severe than other forms of manslaughter or murder due to the lack of premeditation, it is still treated as a severe felony across the U.S. with significant consequences. The sentencing varies by state but is generally less severe than for premeditated murder.

Involuntary Manslaughter Sentences: Federal Penalties

In federal court, involuntary manslaughter is designated as a class C felony, less severe than class A or B felonies like first-degree murder, rape, robbery, or kidnapping. Other class C crimes include online stalking or carjacking. 

On the other hand, voluntary manslaughter is a class B offense, given its deliberate nature. Federal sentencing guidelines indicate a base penalty of 10 to 16 months involuntary manslaughter prison time, but this can rise depending on the defendant's criminal record, multiple charges, or maritime circumstances, with prison time capped at 8 years plus fines.

Specific federal laws apply to juveniles charged with involuntary manslaughter, with cases typically being transferred to state courts for sentencing. However, in circumstances deemed in the country's best interest, they may be tried in federal court, where they would face the same sentencing as adults for the same crimes, as there's no separate sentencing for minors in federal court.  

Involuntary Manslaughter Sentences: State Penalties

The number of years in a typical sentence for involuntary manslaughter depends on the laws of each jurisdiction. According to state law, the crime is typically classified as either a class C or class D felony, and each state’s associated consequences vary widely. However, in all states, the offense is punishable by imprisonment and/or fines.

Most states will not have one single unintentional manslaughter sentence but several that judges can choose from depending on the details of the case and any mitigating or aggravating factors. Mitigating factors, which may lessen the severity of the consequences, include:

  • When the defendant has no previous criminal history or convictions;

  • When the person being convicted shows true signs of remorse for the incident;

  • When the defendant is more likely to reform and take responsibility for their actions;

  • If the person has a mental or physical illness, that is partially to blame for the crime.

Conversely, aggravating factors can worsen the sentence, increasing the time served or fines paid for involuntary manslaughter. These can include a previous history of reckless behavior or other manslaughter offenses and whether reckless behavior contributed to the incident, such as an intoxicated driver causing a traffic accident. 

If a minor, elderly, disabled, or mentally ill person or a member of law enforcement or the military is killed, the consequences may also be harsher.

Examples of Sentences for Involuntary Manslaughter

The sentence for involuntary manslaughter will vary depending on the state. For this reason, it may help to look at involuntary manslaughter examples. One of the most common types of unintended murder cases is death from traffic accidents, also called vehicular manslaughter. A major contributing factor to the sentence given for vehicular manslaughter is whether the driver was intoxicated.

In Alabama, such an offense can lead to up to 10 years in prison and $15,000 in fines for a first-time offender. Washington sees this as a class A felony, potentially leading to life imprisonment and $50,000 in fines. License suspension often accompanies these cases.

In contrast, Connecticut considers involuntary manslaughter due to criminal negligence a class A misdemeanor, with up to a year in prison and $2,000 in fines. Meanwhile, Colorado's penalty for involuntary manslaughter can reach up to three years in prison, two years parole, and $100,000 fines. New York convicts can face up to four years of jail time for involuntary manslaughter. In Oregon, the sentence can reach up to 10 years in jail and fines up to $250,000.  

Defenses of Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

Any lawyer working on an involuntary manslaughter case must develop a strong defense. Even though a sentence for involuntary manslaughter is not as harsh as for murder, some states still give severe accidental manslaughter sentences, which vary dramatically from case to case and may be reduced substantially with a strong defense. A defense may be based on:

  • Accidental death: One way to argue against the charges is to prove that it was accidental and not due to negligence or recklessness.

  • Self-defense: Any death that was caused in the act of self-defense will not be classified as involuntary manslaughter so that the charges may be reduced.

  • Wrongful arrest: Finding and proving with substantial evidence that the wrong person is being held responsible for the crime may result in the charges being dropped or an acquittal.

  • Insufficient evidence: The prosecution may not have enough evidence to prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is also important to consider all mitigating and aggravating factors to achieve the best possible outcome. The lawyer can also provide a character reference letter for court as a part of the evidence. 


A sentence for involuntary manslaughter typically includes at least one year in prison and fines. However, the exact involuntary manslaughter sentence depends on whether the case is being treated as a federal or state case and the laws of each jurisdiction. 

The circumstances surrounding each case also bear weight on the charges and the sentence if convicted. In some states, incidents resulting from criminal negligence have minor penalties. They are classified as misdemeanors, whereas a death caused by driving while intoxicated could lead to a second-degree murder charge. To get more information about criminal law legal issues, visit Lawrina, a reliable legaltech ecosystem.

Article by
Yevheniia Savchenko

Yevheniia Savchenko is a Product Content Manager at Lawrina. Yevheniia creates user interface copies for Lawrina products, writes release notes, and helps customers get the best user experience from all Lawrina products. Also, Yevheniia is in charge of creating helpful content on legal template pages (Lawrina Templates) and up-to-date information on US law (Lawrina Guides). In her spare time, Yevheniia takes up swimming, travels, and goes for a walk in her home city.

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