The penalty for involuntary manslaughter varies widely by state but usually carries a minimum sentence of 12 months in prison plus fines and probation, according to FindLaw. Involuntary manslaughter is considered a felony in all jurisdictions of the United States. Most states base their sentencing guidelines on Federal law, which requires a prison sentence of 12 to 16 months with increased penalties for extremely reckless and automobile-related manslaughter.
According to FindLaw, involuntary manslaughter is defined as causing another person's death through reckless behavior or the commission of a crime (other than the intent to kill). The penalty for involuntary manslaughter is not as severe as the penalty for most other forms of homicide. State sentencing guidelines generally provide a broad range of sentence options, and judges have discretion on deciding how stiff a penalty to impose. Judges generally evaluate aggravating and mitigating factors in deciding on a sentence. Aggravating factors include the defendant's history or reckless conduct and criminal history, which can result in a stiffer sentence. Mitigating factors include the defendant's acceptance of responsibility or lack of criminal history, which can result in a lighter sentence. The disparity in sentencing guidelines between different jurisdictions can be seen by contrasting the cases of Johannes Mehserle and Tommy Morgan. A California court sentenced Mehserle, a police officer, to two years in prison for accidentally shooting and killing a suspect. A federal court sentenced Morgan to one year in prison for killing a man while driving drunk.