What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Someone who kills another person can be charged with involuntary manslaughter. This type of charge differs from a murder charge because it lacks criminal intent. This means that the act was not intentional, but rather an accident of recklessness or negligence. This charge holds the least amount of accountability for a homicidal death. In this blog you’ll find everything you need to know about involuntary manslaughter in Colorado and what to do if you face charges. For further information, contact experienced Denver criminal defense attorney Jeff Weeden at 720-307-4330 today.


The legal definition of involuntary manslaughter is the crime of killing another individual unlawfully but without intention. The death was not planned but resulted from the negligent or reckless behavior of another person. 


Involuntary manslaughter, involuntary homicide, and criminally negligent homicide are essentially all the same. Only the terminology is different. All refer to the accidental death of another being through acts of negligence. Depending on what jurisdiction you fall under, you may hear any of these terms.


Manslaughter breaks down into four separate categories: 

  • Purpose
    • Highest level of accountability. Individual acts willfully and with intention.
  • Knowing
    • Second highest level of accountability. Individual acts with the knowledge that his or her actions could lead to death.
  • Recklessness
    • Next level of accountability. Individual acts in a reckless or dangerous manner with awareness of potential risk.
  • Negligence
    • Lowest level of accountability. Individual acts with no awareness of the consequences of his or her behavior.


Voluntary manslaughter falls into the first two categories of “purpose” and “knowing.” Involuntary manslaughter falls into the “recklessness” and “negligence” categories. 

Both involuntary and voluntary manslaughter are less severe charges than first-degree murder. To determine the severity of the charges, one looks at the prior intent. For a first-degree murder charge, the perpetrator must have planned the murder beforehand. This period of premeditation is what is often called “lying in wait.” This means that the perpetrator had both an intention to kill and a plan to execute it. (See our blog: What is the Difference Between First and Second-Degree Murder Charges?)

To determine voluntary manslaughter, you look for something called the “heat of passion.” This phrase refers to a death that was intentional but not premeditated. The homicide was the result of an individual who was overcome with emotion or distress at the time. This mentally disturbed state thus resulted in the loss of all restraint or reason. 

A common example of this is when a man comes home to his partner cheating on him. Seeing his partner with another person triggers the “heat of passion” within him. It provokes him to do something irrational and out-of-character. This might be something like picking up a shotgun and killing his partner or the person he or she is with. Because the act was neither premeditated nor accidental, it is voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter relies on the fact that the death was, in fact, accidental. Courts determine this by the level of recklessness or negligence surrounding the homicide. If the act was merely one of self-defense, certain other laws may apply. (See: What is the Make My Day Law?)


One of the most common types of involuntary manslaughter is vehicular homicide. Some states consider vehicular homicide to be a misdemeanor if the driver was speeding or disobeying traffic laws at the death’s occurrence. The exception is if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In this case, it becomes a felony. 

In Colorado, vehicular homicide is a Class 4 felony. If the driver was under the influence, it gets upgraded to a Class 3 felony. 

Another example of involuntary manslaughter is randomly firing a gun into the air and shooting someone. You may not have had the intention to kill, but you knew the possible outcome of the situation. Death as a result of leaving a child in a hot car, a physical altercation, failure to perform safety protocols, and hunting accidents are also examples of involuntary manslaughter.

Some states consider accidentally killing an unborn child to be involuntary manslaughter. In states like Arkansas or Arizona, killing a fetus at any stage in its development is fetal homicide. The exception for this is if it was intentionally performed by a medical professional.

In Colorado, courts look at the harm done to a fetus in relation to its mother. They do not consider the fetus as a separate charge on its own.  

Simply put, to qualify as involuntary manslaughter, the death must be a proven accident and not premeditated in any way.


The punishment for involuntary manslaughter varies from state to state. In states where it is a felony, sentences start with 1 year in prison. In Colorado, the sentence for first time offenders is up to 3 years imprisonment and 2 years of mandatory parole. Fines can range from $1,000 up to $100,000 depending on the circumstances. 

The sentence also depends on the specifics of each case. Repeat offenders often receive more jail time and a higher number in fines than first-time offenders.

The involvement of a weapon in a manslaughter case would also increase the charges. If the perpetrator used a dangerous object or deadly weapon to commit the act, it is a dangerous offense. Dangerous offenses can carry much heavier sentences than non-dangerous offenses. Both dangerous and non-dangerous offenses of involuntary manslaughter in Colorado are felonies. This means the charge will result in a permanent criminal record and the confiscation of any firearm licenses. 


The moment you get arrested or charged with a crime of any kind, it goes on your permanent record. This means employers, landlords, or anyone who conducts a background check on you will be able to see. For most juvenile cases, getting the record expunged is an option. Adults facing criminal charges may be able to seal records later on. 

Depending on the extent of the crime and the experience of your attorney, these options might be available to you. If your felony charges are dismissed later, you can seal your records. Unfortunately, when dealing with a loss of life, it is much more difficult to seal your records. In Colorado, it is possible to seal records of Class 4, 5, or 6 felonies. However, you must wait at least 3 years after the case ends to do this. 

In conclusion, like most things, it depends on the circumstances. You should keep an experienced lawyer on your side. This increases the chances you can seal or expunge your charges


We know the burden of a charge like involuntary manslaughter can weigh heavy on your shoulders. If you’re facing these charges and are not sure what to do next, you may want to speak with an experienced attorney. Jeff Weeden has the experience you need. Here at Weeden Law, we want to give you the best possible representation and help you to move forward. Contact WeedenLaw for a free case review or call us at 720-307-4330. You owe it to yourself and your family to fight for your future.

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