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Accidental Shooting Deaths Can Lead to Florida Manslaughter Charges

There are way too many gun deaths that occur in this country. No matter which side of the gun control debate you come down on, that’s something just about everyone can agree on.Most of the time, when we hear about gun deaths, they tend to be in the context of someone committing an intentional crime. One person shoots another with the intent of killing them. They commit a robbery, and someone gets shot and killed in the commission.Recently, however, Florida has experienced a rash of shooting deaths that are a little bit different. Accidental shootings. Incidents where someone was showing off a gun or playing with it, and they ended up shooting another person.Some of the victims lived. Like 12-year-old Amarion McDuffie, who was shot in the mouth by his friend (also 12) while the two of them were playing around with the friend’s mother’s gun.Others were not so lucky. There’s the case of the man who died in an accidental shooting this past December in Sunrise. Since officers don’t mention the involvement of anyone else, it’s difficult to say exactly what happened other than the fact that it was yet another gun-related tragedy.These types of incidents can have additional “victims” as well. Take Christian Ashley, 15, who pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter charges in juvenile court after accidentally shooting his friend through the chest and killing him when a gun they were passing around went off.The lesson here? If you are going to mess around with a firearm, you need to be incredibly careful… and you need to be aware that gun “accidents” sometimes lead to criminal charges for the person holding the weapon. When that “accident” includes someone being shot and killed, the one with the gun in his or her hand may even find themselves facing manslaughter charges, like Christian Ashley.How is this possible? It comes down to the legal definition of manslaughter and the specific circumstances surrounding the incident.

Defining the Crime of Manslaughter Under Florida Law

To understand manslaughter, you first have to know what homicide is. A lot of people believe that homicide and murder mean the same thing, but that’s not true.Murder, at its most basic, is planning to kill someone and then doing it, or causing someone’s death in relation to committing another illegal act. For example, you could be charged with murder if you set fire to a building and someone died inside or if you provided someone with a controlled substance that causes them to OD and die.

Homicide, in contrast, casts a bigger net: it just means the killing of another person. If someone commits a homicide that does not fall under the definition of murder, it may be charged as manslaughter.Florida law defines two types of manslaughter charges: voluntary and involuntary. A voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that occurs in the moment due to some kind of provocation. An involuntary manslaughter is basically an accident that results in another’s death.Of course, it’s not quite that simple. For an involuntary manslaughter charge to lead to a conviction, the prosecutor would need to prove that there was “culpable negligence” involved. In other words, that the person who caused the death did so by acting in a reckless way that showed a disregard for human life.This last part is the argument that prosecutors are likely to use if you are charged with manslaughter for accidentally shooting someone with a gun. Not just that you behaved in a reckless way, but that you did so while handling a deadly weapon.It’s a pretty compelling argument, and one that you want to fight back against, because the associated consequences are incredibly serious.What are they?

How Florida Penalizes Involuntary Manslaughter and What You Can Do to Battle Your Charges

If you are convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Florida, the price you pay is likely to be quite steep. Criminal penalties include:

  • Imprisonment of up to 15 years
  • Probation of up to 15 years
  • Fines of up to $10,000

Those consequences are just for basic involuntary manslaughter, too. It is possible to be charged with aggravated manslaughter if the act caused the death of a minor, an elderly person, a disabled individual, or others in protected roles as defined in 782.07. Aggravated manslaughter is a felony of the first degree and comes with a potential prison sentence of up to 30 years.

What should you do if you find yourself facing involuntary manslaughter charges? Reach out to a knowledgeable Florida criminal lawyer as soon as possible. He or she will be able to look at the facts of your case and put together the strongest possible defense so you have the best chance at having your charges reduced, dropped, or dismissed.About the Author:Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he's done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.

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