What is Involuntary Manslaughter and why did prosecutors charge Michigan school shooter’s parents with this crime?
Recently, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald brought charges against the parents of Ethan Crumbley in Michigan. Crumbley is accused of a school shooting which took the lives of 4 students. Crumbley allegedly committed the murders with a 9mm pistol which his father purchased at a local gun shop during black Friday.
What is involuntary manslaughter and how is different from manslaughter or a murder charge?
While Crumbley’s parents never entered the school, pointed the weapon, or fired it, they face the involuntary manslaughter charge based on the allegation that they made the weapon easily available to their son who later to commit these crimes. Michigan, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey where our law firm defends individuals charged with crimes, maintains a criminal statute which covers various forms of homicide which include murder and manslaughter. Manslaughter is further classified into 2 categories of voluntary and involuntary, very similar to Pennsylvania.
Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person intentionally kills another person during a “heat of passion” such as a fight or under the mistaken belief that his or her life is in danger (aka imperfect self defense). Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional act which leads to another’s death through gross negligence or recklessness.
Pennsylvania grades involuntary manslaughter as a misdemeanor of the 1st degree. In Pennsylvania, involuntary manslaughter can be graded as a felony if the victim is under the age of 12 and is in care or custody of a person who caused the death. New Jersey separates the crime of manslaughter between the categories of aggravated manslaughter and manslaughter. In New Jersey manslaughter refers to a person who recklessly causes the death of another person and can be graded as a crime of the 1st or 2nd degree depending on the circumstances surrounding what occurred (See 2C: 11-4; See Pennsylvania Title 18 § 2504).
Why were the school shooter’s parents charged with involuntary manslaughter?
It is unclear exactly what evidence prosecutors have against Crumbley’s parents, James & Jennifer. While they both have prior criminal history which includes DUI, prior bad checks, and driving with a suspended license, there is nothing to indicate that their prior history pertains to anything relating to violence or the illegal possession of guns or firearms. Prosecution only alleged that Crumbley’s parents were the only ones in a position to control access to the weapons and the weapon itself seemed freely available to Crumbley prior to the shooting. There is also an allegation that they communicated via text message before the shooting and that the communication should have caused the parents to notify authorities as to their son’s state of mind
Involuntary manslaughter is much less serious than a murder charge but nevertheless Crumbley’s parents, under Michigan law, face up to 15 years in prison for each count.
What is Murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey?
Murder is the more serious category and it is separated by 3 degrees in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Murder of the 1st degree is a criminal homicide committed by an intentional act. While murder of the 2nd degree is committed when a homicide occurs while a defendant or his or her accomplice is engaged in committing a felony crime such as robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, kidnapping, or rape. (See 18 § 2502 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-3 – New Jersey).
While New Jersey does not specifically differentiate between murders of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree within its crimes code, it does define the types of murder similarly to Pennsylvania. New Jersey defines all murder as a crime of the 1st degree which is the most serious offense in New Jersey. Murder which results from an intentional act (murder of the 1st degree in Pennsylvania) carries with it a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Murder of the 2nd degree in Pennsylvania also carries with it a life sentence. While murder of the 3rd degree in Pennsylvania carries with it a maximum sentence of 40 years of state incarceration.
Murder of the 2nd degree is felony murder in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and so, the principle actor and his or her accomplice face a potential life sentence if convicted of this crime. It is irrelevant if either the principle or the accomplices intended or set out to kill anyone during the commission of the felony.
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