Wisconsin Involuntary Manslaughter Law

If a killing was accidental, is it a crime? Involuntary manslaughter, also known as criminally negligent manslaughter in some states, occurs when a person accidentally kills another due to his or her own criminal negligence or recklessness. Unlike first or second degree (intentional) murder, with involuntary manslaughter, the defendant had no intention of killing anyone, but their careless or reckless actions caused another person to die.

Wisconsin has two degrees of reckless homicide, but only the second falls into the involuntary manslaughter category. The other is first-degree reckless homicide, for more information see the Wisconsin Second Degree Murder article.

Negligent or Intoxicated Driving or Firearm Deaths

Both drunk driving and texting while driving can kill passengers, other drivers, and innocent pedestrians. So can using a gun negligently or while drunk. Wisconsin has two different laws for killing people with a vehicle, one specifically for intoxicated driving and the other for other negligent driving.

In addition, negligent use of dangerous weapons like guns and explosives or intoxicated use of guns that causes someone’s death are homicide charges in Wisconsin. If it seems unsafe to do something, you probably shouldn't.

Wisconsin Involuntary Manslaughter Statute

The following table highlights the main provisions of Missouri's involuntary manslaughter law.

Code Sections

Wisconsin Statutes Section 940.06: Second-Degree Reckless Homicide, 940.7: Homicide Resulting from Negligent Control of Vicious Animal, 940.08: Homicide by Negligent Handling of Dangerous Weapon, Explosives, or Fire, 940.09: Homicide by Intoxicated Use of Vehicle or Firearm, 940.10: Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Vehicle

What is Prohibited?

All of the following forms of reckless or negligent homicides are illegal in Wisconsin:

  • Second-Degree Reckless Homicide - Recklessly causing the death of another human or an unborn child. This requires criminal recklessness, which is both an objectively unreasonable and substantial risk of human death or serious physical harm, as well as the defendant's subjective awareness of that risk.
  • Homicide Resulting from Negligent Control of Vicious Animal - When an animal kills a human who's been as cautious around it as the circumstances allow, and the owner or maintainer of the animal knows it can be vicious and still intentionally allows it to run free or doesn't keep it as carefully as he or she should
  • Homicide by Negligent Handling of Dangerous Weapon, Explosives, or Fire - Causing the death of another human or unborn child by negligently operating or handling a dangerous weapon (including firearms, airguns, knives, and bows & arrows), explosives, or fire
  • Homicide by Intoxicated Use of Vehicle or Firearm -
    • Causing the death of another human or unborn child by operating or handling a vehicle (including cars, boats, and tractors) while under the influence of an intoxicant, having a detectable amount of a controlled substance in his or her blood, having a "prohibited blood alcohol concentration" (exact BAC limit of either over 0.08 or 0.02 depends on number of prior convictions or license suspensions and whether currently using an Ignition Interlock Device or IID by court order), or is operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of 0.04 to 0.08.
    • Causing the death of another human or unborn child by operating or handling a firearm or airgun while under the influence of an intoxicant, having a detectable amount of a controlled substance in his or her blood, or with a BAC of 0.08 or more.
    • Note that each separate death is a separate offense, even if they arose from the same accident
  • Homicide by Negligent Operation of a Vehicle - Causing the death of another human being or unborn child by negligently operating or handling of a vehicle, running a red light could be an example of this form of negligent homicide. Criminal negligence is negligence to a high degree where the actor should realize he or she created a substantial and unreasonable risk of death or great physical harm to another.
    • Note that a corporation can be held criminally liable under this law.

Penalty

Criminal sentences in Wisconsin vary based on the level or class of felony. The above homicide crimes are punished by:

  • Class C Felony - Imprisonment up to 40 years and a fine up to $100,000 (homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle with prior convictions or while using an IID)
  • Class D Felony - Imprisonment up to 25 years and a fine up to $100,000 (second-degree reckless homicide, homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle or gun)
  • Class G Felony - Imprisonment up to 10 years and a fine up to $25,000 (homicide by negligent: control of a vicious animal, handling of weapons/explosives/fire, or operation of a vehicle)

Defenses

Many manslaughter defenses are specific to the facts of a case. Wisconsin law provides for some defenses in the statutes. For example, for homicide by negligent use of a vehicle or guns while intoxicated it's sometimes a defense that the death would have occurred even if the defendant had exercised due care or hadn't been drunk or on drugs. It's also a defense that a person has detectable drugs in their bloodstream, but has a valid prescription for the drugs.

Note: State laws change regularly -- conduct your own legal research to verify the laws you're researching.

If you're facing any form of homicide charge, contact an experienced Wisconsin criminal defense attorney immediately for help.

Research the Law

Related Resources

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.