Minnesota Involuntary Manslaughter Law

Involuntary manslaughter is causing a person’s death by your own reckless or grossly negligent actions. In this type of manslaughter, it’s the disregard for the safety of others or risk of death that makes the actions criminal, rather than any intent to harm the victim. Minnesota also views these accidental deaths as criminal, but doesn't penalize the crime as severely as an intentional killing.

Involuntary manslaughter in Minnesota is called manslaughter in the second degree. In addition, there are two types of criminal vehicular homicide, one for humans and another for unborn fetuses. All of these are below the intentional homicide crimes of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and voluntary manslaughter. Vehicular homicide is prohibited to address negligent driving, such as drunk driving or texting and driving.

Depraved Heart Murder vs. Criminally Negligent Manslaughter

Depraved heart murder is a part of the Minnesota murder in the third degree statute. This is causing an act so eminently dangerous to others that you would not have done it without having a completely depraved heart or mind. An example of this crime is walking into the middle of a crowd and shooting a gun in any direction. In other words, not actually intending to kill a specific person, but doing so just to see what would happened. This isn’t socially acceptable because we all know it’s extremely likely to cause harm.

In comparison, the type of criminal negligence that arises in manslaughter in the second degree in Minnesota are actions that are likely to cause harm to others, but there’s no eminence to the risk, necessarily. For example, rock climbing at night without ropes is dangerous. If you add throwing rocks at your friend while on the cliff as a not-so-funny practical joke, and that causes him to fall off and die, you may be charged manslaughter in the second degree. Even if you didn’t intend to kill your friend, your actions were unreasonably risky. Additionally, playing chicken with a car that causes the other driver to be run off the road, hit a telephone pole, and die could be criminal vehicular homicide or involuntary manslaughter.

The following table outlines Minnesota’s involuntary manslaughter laws.

Code Sections

Minnesota Statutes Sections 609.205 – Manslaughter in the Second Degree, 609.2112 – Criminal Vehicular Homicide, and 609.2114 – Criminal Vehicular Operation: Unborn Child

What is Prohibited?

Minnesota law provides for several forms of accidental death killing that are still criminal

  • Manslaughter in the Second Degree is causing the death of another through any of the following means:
    • Negligence that created an unreasonable risk and consciously chances causing death or great bodily harm to another
    • Shooting another with a firearm or dangerous weapon because you negligently believed the person to be a deer or animal (hunting accidents)
    • Setting traps such as spring guns, pit falls, snares, etc.
    • Permitting any animal you know has vicious propensities or has caused physical harm in the past, to run uncontrolled off your home or land or failing to keep it properly confined (the privately owned tiger problem)
    • Neglecting or endangering a child, but not committing murder in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree
  • Criminal Vehicular Homicide is causing a death (including of an unborn child) that isn’t murder or manslaughter from operating a motor vehicle in any of the following ways:
    • Grossly negligently
    • Negligently while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (includes Schedule I or II controlled substances, besides marijuana)
    • While having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or more
    • Negligently while knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance (such as a chemical or gas that can cause death or serious physical harm)
    • When the driver causing the collision leaves the scene, despite the law requiring a driver to stop if anyone is injured or dead
    • When a driver is informed by a police officer that the car is defectively maintained, doesn’t fix the problem, and the death is caused by the defective maintenance (i.e. other car couldn’t see your car as you had no working headlights)
Penalty

Both manslaughter in the second degree and criminal vehicular homicide (either a person or unborn child killed) can be punished by no more than 10 years in prison and not more than a $20,000 fine.

For comparison, murder in the third degree can be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

Defenses

It’s a defense to manslaughter in the second degree that the victim provoked the dangerous animal, causing the victim’s death. An example of this would be if the tiger in the San Francisco Zoo who killed a 17 year old in 2007 after being teased and taunted by the four young men, had been privately owned. The defendant must prove it was the victim’s fault by a preponderance of the evidence.

Note: State laws change often, it's important to verify the laws you’re researching.

Research the Law

Related Resources

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.