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  • Involuntary Manslaughter in New Mexico: A Comprehensive Legal Guide

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    When someone dies in an accident, the victim’s family typically wants someone to blame. Often, their loved one’s death was simply caused by an accident. Unfortunately, prosecuting attorneys occasionally file involuntary manslaughter charges against an involved party to satisfy the family’s demand for retribution. Involuntary manslaughter is a serious criminal charge that carries severe penalties. You should not wait around until your case is ready to go to trial to consult with an attorney about your case.

    A skilled criminal defense lawyer can identify weaknesses in the case against you and fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed entirely. Contact a lawyer at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices today to discuss your case. 

    Involuntary Manslaughter: New Mexico

    In New Mexico, involuntary manslaughter is defined as manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection. Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of another person without malice.

    To prove involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the accused acted recklessly or with criminal negligence. A person acts recklessly when they are aware of the risk they are creating with their actions, like when a drunk driver gets behind the wheel of a car.

    A person is criminally negligent when they are unaware of an obvious risk they are creating with their actions, but a reasonable person would have been. 

    Another way someone can commit involuntary manslaughter is by unintentionally causing someone’s death while committing a misdemeanor like assault or trespassing. 

    Involuntary manslaughter charges are common when a driver unintentionally kills someone with their vehicle. In New Mexico, this crime is charged as homicide by vehicle. Homicide by vehicle (NMSA 66-8-101) is defined as when someone is killed in the unlawful operation of a motor vehicle. New Mexico defines two types of homicide by vehicle. One type occurs when the driver is operating the vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causes another person’s death. The second type of homicide by vehicle occurs when the driver recklessly operates the vehicle and causes another person’s death.

    New Mexico Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties

    Involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico is considered a fourth-degree felony. A fourth-degree felony is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

    When the driver is under the influence of drugs or alcohol and causes the victim’s death, the charge is a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $12,500. Motorists with one prior DWI conviction within the last 10 years can receive a sentence of up to 19 years in prison. The potential sentence increases by another four years if the driver has two prior drunk driving convictions.

    When the driver was driving recklessly and caused the victim’s death, the charge is a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

    Scenarios Where Involuntary Manslaughter Charges Arise

    Recently, actor Alec Baldwin was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico stemming from a deadly shooting on a movie set in 2021. Baldwin is accused of rehearsing a scene with a firearm that contained live ammunition instead of blanks. The prosecutor claims that Baldwin was negligent by pointing the firearm at anyone without checking whether it contained the appropriate ammunition. In addition to Baldwin, the prosecution charged the on-set armorer with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

    Another common form of involuntary manslaughter is when a drunk driver hits a pedestrian from their vehicle. The person did not plan to murder anyone, but their actions—driving while intoxicated—were illegal, harmful, or negligent.

    Defenses to Involuntary Manslaughter

    The prosecutor is required to prove every element of the New Mexico involuntary manslaughter statute beyond a reasonable doubt. In some scenarios, a legal defense applies to your case that can defeat an element of the charge, such as:

    • An absence of recklessness or criminal negligence,
    • Other circumstances caused the victim’s death,
    • You acted in self defense, 
    • You acted in defense of another person, and
    • Coercion or duress influenced your actions.

    A criminal defense attorney can review your charges to determine whether a legal defense applies to your case. 

    What Is the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?

    The primary difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is whether the accused intended to cause the victim’s death. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that occurs in a heat of passion, while involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing caused by criminal negligence or recklessness.

    Consequences of a Criminal Conviction

    In New Mexico, someone with a felony conviction loses three basic rights:

    • Voting,
    • Holding elected office, and
    • Possessing a firearm.

    An involuntary manslaughter conviction can put your civil rights in jeopardy. It can also make it harder for you to secure a job. Most employers do not want to hire someone with a felony conviction on their record. An involuntary manslaughter conviction might make prospective employers think you are violent or make reckless decisions.

    The best way to get your felony charges reduced to a misdemeanor is by hiring a criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can find the weaknesses in the state’s case and negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce your charges to a misdemeanor.

    Contact a Lawyer to Discuss New Mexico Involuntary Manslaughter Punishment

    Our defense attorneys at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices have over two decades of combined experience protecting our clients’ rights. Our attorneys focus primarily on criminal defense cases, fighting tirelessly to defend the rights of the accused. We will sit down to listen to your side of the story and create a defense strategy to bolster your innocence.

    You cannot afford to risk your freedom and your family’s future on an inexperienced attorney. Let one of our experienced criminal lawyers fight for you. Contact our office today so an attorney can start reviewing your case.