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Legal defenses to involuntary manslaughter

Previous blog posts explained the crimes of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter and discussed the legal defenses to voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania -- innocence, self-defense, insanity, accidental killing and involuntary intoxication. There are also several legal defenses available to defendants charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and the prosecution must show that the victim was killed as a result of the inherently dangerous or reckless actions of the defendant. Intent is not an element of involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, malice is not needed to convict, but prosecutors must show that the defendant knew or should have known that his or her actions may have fatal consequences.

Some common legal defenses to involuntary manslaughter are: self-defense, accident, insufficient evidence, false accusation or wrongful arrest. First, defendants may be acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, if they can show that they acted in self-defense or the defense of another from imminent death or serious harm. Second, defendants may refute the assertion that they acted negligently or recklessly by showing that the victim's death was an accident. But, the defendant must have been acting lawfully and without criminal intent when the death occurred.

Third, defendants may assert that the prosecution has insufficient evidence and has thus, not met its burden of proof. Evidence must have been obtained properly in the case, and there must be a causal connection between the defendant and the victim's death for a conviction. Defendants may successfully assert this defense if they can show that law enforcement wrongfully obtained evidence or that the victim was killed due to something other than the defendant's actions.

Finally, defendants may claim that they were falsely accused or wrongly convicted. If defendants can cast reasonable doubt on their alleged guilt, they may be able to avoid an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

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