What is Reckless Homicide?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Reckless homicide is a form of involuntary manslaughter in which someone dies as a direct consequence of reckless behavior on the part of someone else. People who are convicted of reckless homicide may be penalized with prison time and fines, depending on the nature of the offense and the jurisdiction in which it occurred. As a general rule, to prove this charge, the prosecution must demonstrate that the defendant caused the decedent's death and that the defendant's recklessness was a contributing factor or the immediate cause of death.

Drinking and driving can lead to reckless homicides.
Drinking and driving can lead to reckless homicides.

A classic example of reckless homicide is a case in which someone is drinking and driving and causes an accident which kills someone. Other examples might include situations in which people throw or drop objects which could cause injuries in areas where people are present. For example, if someone drops a cinderblock into the street from the top floor of a building and someone is struck and killed by the block, the person could be charged with reckless homicide.

Accidentally shooting someone could be considered reckless homicide.
Accidentally shooting someone could be considered reckless homicide.

Reckless behavior is behavior which could lead to injurious or fatal consequences which someone decides to engage in despite these consequences. To demonstrate that someone behaved in a manner which is reckless, it must be shown that the person was aware of the risks and chose to engage in the activity anyway. Thus, doing something like drinking and driving is reckless, because there is a well established and widely known danger involved in drinking and driving.

Reckless homicide charges may lead to a prison sentence.
Reckless homicide charges may lead to a prison sentence.

This differs from negligence, in which people do not exercise reasonable care and someone is injured or killed as a result. Leaving guns unsecured, for example, is considered negligence, because most reasonable people would secure guns using a method which would prevent their use by unauthorized people. Firing a gun in an enclosed area, on the other hand, is reckless. People can be penalized for deaths which occur as a result of negligence, but they are charged with negligent homicide, not reckless homicide.

People who deliberately plan to murder are deemed more of a threat to society than people who murder by negligence or recklessness.
People who deliberately plan to murder are deemed more of a threat to society than people who murder by negligence or recklessness.

A charge of reckless homicide excludes cases in which someone premeditated a death and intended to injure someone. This changes the charge to murder, as the facts surrounding the case have changed. People who deliberately plan to murder are deemed more of a threat to society than people who murder by negligence or recklessness, and the penalties for murder are subsequently higher. For example, someone who plans to kill someone with a motor vehicle and drinks heavily beforehand is guilty of murder, not reckless homicide, and will be subject to a much longer prison sentence.

Reckless homicide may occur as a result of someone engaging in reckless driving.
Reckless homicide may occur as a result of someone engaging in reckless driving.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

@ysmina-- Reckless homicide laws depend on the state, so I can't speak for all states. I think that lady will be charged with reckless homicide because driving faster than the speed limit is recklessness.

There are also different degrees of reckless homicide. The judge might decide, depending on the circumstances, that she be charged with second degree reckless homicide instead of first, which is less serious.

ysmina

@simrin-- I would like to know the same.

Last night, there was an accident in my neighborhood. A lady was driving faster than the speed limit at night and ran over a pedestrian that was crossing the street where he shouldn't have been. When I saw the cops there, there was blood on the ground and it just looked really bad.

I'm curious, if the pedestrian dies, will that lady be convicted of reckless homicide because she crossed the speed limit? But the pedestrian made a mistake too, he didn't use the pedestrian crosswalk.

I think it's just an accident. The lady should have to pay for crossing the speed limit but I don't think she should be charged with reckless homicide.

SteamLouis

Where are the lines drawn when it comes to reckless homicide?

What kind of factors does the judge consider before deciding whether something is reckless homicide or just an accident?

Can someone who is convicted of reckless homicide escape jail time?

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