Prosecutors in South Carolina and around the country file manslaughter rather than murder charges against individuals accused of taking the life of another when the facts suggest that they did not intend to kill their victims, their actions were not premeditated, or they were not of sound mind when they committed their alleged crimes. When prosecutors determine that suspects intended to kill their alleged victims but acted in the heat of the moment, they file voluntary manslaughter charges. When they conclude that the victim died because of the suspect’s negligence or recklessness, they bring involuntary manslaughter charges.
Individuals are often charged with involuntary manslaughter after they cause fatal car accidents while engaging in reckless behavior like street racing or driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol, but not all involuntary manslaughter cases involve motor vehicles. Landlords could be charged with involuntary manslaughter if a tenant is killed because of a dangerous condition that they knew about and ignored, and an employer could face this charge if they flouted safety regulations and workers died as a result.
The penalties for manslaughter are not as harsh as the penalties for murder, but they are still severe. In South Carolina, involuntary manslaughter, which is sometimes referred to as criminal negligence, is a Class F felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in a state prison. Voluntary manslaughter is a Class A felony punishable by between two and 30 years in prison. When their clients are charged with manslaughter, experienced criminal defense attorneys may cite mitigating factors and argue that a more lenient approach would be appropriate.
Prosecutors may be swayed by these arguments because trials are always risky and they know juries can be sympathetic toward defendants who are charged with crimes that they had no intention of committing. Many people see negligence as a civil matter that should be dealt with in civil court, and they may believe that sending people to prison for what amounts to recklessness is not what the criminal justice system was designed for.