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Illinois Involuntary Manslaughter Laws

Overview of Illinois Involuntary Manslaughter Laws

The Illinois Criminal Code of 1961 classifies homicide -- the intentional or unintentional killing of a human being -- as an offense directed against the person. Under the statute, homicide occurs in one of two ways: by murder or manslaughter. Murder generally involves an intentional killing, while manslaughter, defined as the unintentional killing of an individual without lawful justification, does not. Illinois recognizes two degrees of murder and two forms of manslaughter:

Under Illinois involuntary manslaughter laws, one commits the offense when he or she recklessly performs acts, whether lawful or unlawful, which are likely to cause death or great bodily harm, and which do cause the death of an individual. A person commits reckless homicide if he or she unintentionally kills an individual while driving a motor vehicle or operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft.

Illinois also criminalizes the involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide of an "unborn child," meaning "any individual of the human species from fertilization until birth." A person commits involuntary manslaughter of an unborn child when he or she recklessly performs lawful or unlawful acts which are likely to cause death or great bodily harm, and do cause the death of an unborn child; reckless homicide of an unborn child occurs when the death is caused by the driving of a motor vehicle.

In contrast to the crime of first-degree murder, which requires a mental state of intent or knowledge that the accused person's actions create a strong probability of death or serious bodily harm, involuntary manslaughter only requires that a person "recklessly" perform the act(s) causing an individual's death. A person acts "recklessly" when he or she "consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a result will follow, … and that disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the situation."

Although Illinois involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide offenses are classified as Class 3 felonies, such an unintentional killing will be elevated to a Class 2 felony in the presence of specified aggravating factors. These include the commission of a reckless homicide at a public thoroughfare where schoolchildren pass and a crossing guard is on duty; where the victim in question was a peace officer engaged in the course of his or her official duties; or where the victim of an involuntary manslaughter was a family or household member.

Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter Charges

  • Self-defense (only available where the defendant was not the initial aggressor)
  • Defense of another person
  • Defense of home where the entry is unlawfully or violently effected
  • Accident
  • Compulsion
  • Consent of pregnant woman (for involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide of an unborn child; applies to acts committed during an abortion)
  • Act committed pursuant to "usual and customary standards of medical practice" during diagnostic testing or therapeutic treatment (for involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide of an unborn child)
  • Infancy (for persons less than 13 years of age)
  • Insanity

See Involuntary Manslaughter Defenses for more details.

Penalties and Sentences

Probably owing to the fact that manslaughter offenses involve the unintentional killing of an individual, such convictions are punished less severely than those stemming from murder. Illinois criminal law classifies involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide as Class 3 felonies, or Class 2 felonies in the presence of an aggravating factor. For Class 3 felony convictions, Illinois imposes a sentence of 2 to 5 years in prison, periodic imprisonment of up to 18 months, or probation or conditional discharge of up to 30 months; a fine of up to $25,000; and/or restitution.

Conviction of a Class 2 felony carries a heavier sentence and is subject to a term of 3 to 7 years in prison, periodic imprisonment of 18 to 30 months, or probation or conditional discharge of up to 4 years; a fine of up to $25,000; and/or restitution.

See Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing to learn more.

Illinois Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Statute

Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide - (Criminal Code Article 9, Section 9-3)

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact an Illinois criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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