What is Involuntary Manslaughter?
There are two types of involuntary manslaughter in the USA [can vary as between states]:
1. Unintentional homicide – act(s) committed that amount to criminal negligence.
Example 1– an ad hoc supposed health professional providing ‘care’ to someone that was so negligent that caused the person to die.
Example 2 – two people sharing the injecting of heroin and one person injects the other and that other person dies.
2. Unintentional homicide – act(s) that occurred during the commission or attempted commission of an unlawful act which does not amount to a felony.
Example – during the commission of a minor offence, say shoplifting, the offender whilst running out of the store pushes over an elderly person who bangs their head and dies.
Why 4 counts?
Because four people were killed.
What were the relevant facts?
The relevant facts were:
- The accused was the mother of a 15-year-old student who had apparent mental health issues.
- The accused and her partner [‘the parents’] bought their son a gun not long before the shooting.
- There was evidence that they were aware of their son’s mental health issues including suicidal ideation.
- When mum was made aware of a note written by their son which note was found at school, she could have made arrangements to take him home but said she had to go back to work, when it was later established, that was not correct and she could have taken him home.
- There was a text message from her to her lover – sent after the shooting to the effect that the shooting could have been prevented if the school had kept him there and not him leave.
- The parents had just purchased the gun for their son and they had taken him to a firing range prior the shooting and she was the last one to handle the gun.
- She did not secure the gun safely after returning home from the firing range.
Are the convictions Unique?
Yes, the convictions are unique because:
- It is not easy, as a matter of the strict application of the law [in the USA], to fit the ‘facts’ to the crime of involuntary manslaughter.
- There have been other cases of shootings by ‘children’ where the parents have been charged – but none of them ended up with mass killings [4 deceased here] – and defence and prosecutors ended up negotiating pleas of guilty to relatively minor charges, such as misdemeanour reckless conduct charges [with an agreement that the father spend 60 days in prison] and in another case, where a 6 year old shot his teacher, the boy’s mother ultimately pleaded guilty to a state child neglect charge and felony charges of unlawful use of a controlled substance while possessing a firearm and making a false statement while purchasing a firearm.
- Whereas, in this case, Ms Crumbley faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 15 years.
- There is little doubt that the ‘result’, with four dead, together with the emotion in the courtroom, played a large part in the jury returning guilty verdicts.
- So much is clear when one has regard to what a juror allegedly told an ABC reporter as she was walking to her car after the verdict, namely: it ‘came down to the fact that Jennifer was the last adult with the gun.’
What is the Australian Law as to Manslaughter?
In NSW the maximum period of imprisonment for manslaughter is 25 years, however, because the conduct covering such an offence is so wide and varied the actual sentence may involve no time in prison, up to the maximum of 25 years for the worst type of that case.
The unintentional killing of another person will constitute the offence of manslaughter, however, the unintentional killing of another during the commission of a crime, such as robbery, could and likely would result in a murder charge.
Usually, the act(s) relied upon by the prosecution would be direct acts by the accused toward the person that died.
However, there can be circumstances where the omission of an act may lead to a manslaughter charge. For example, in the same example as above, two drug users and one is ‘fitting’ and/or vomiting and the other leaves the scene without offering assistance and/or calling an ambulance or 000 and the other dies.
In my view it is unlikely that Ms Crumbley would have been charged with manslaughter.
One also has to remember, here in Australia, we don’t have the frequent occurrence of mass shootings as they do occur in USA.
Once again, these USA verdicts establish what I have been saying for many years, that an emotional jury [including in Australia] can return a verdict based on what they consider to be ‘right’ regardless of whether the facts establish the essential elements of the particular offence.
It is certainly concerning that a parent could be held to be criminally responsible for the actions of their child in circumstances such as these and particularly, that it may be seen to open the proverbial ‘Pandora’s Box’, relating to a parent’s neglect of a child.
Director & Accredited Specialist In Criminal Law