California Prosecutor May Bring Manslaughter Charges for Collapsed Balcony

Recently, prosecutors in Oakland, California announced they opened up a criminal investigation into the fatal balcony collapse that occurred on June 17 near the UC Berkeley campus.  Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley launched an investigation into the incident that killed 6 college students at an apartment party when police announced they would not look into the deaths. Specifically, the construction company responsible for the balcony’s construction (Segue Construction) now faces criminal negligence and manslaughter charges.  City officials have confirmed that the balcony was severely rotted by exposure to moisture, when it completely broke off the side of the apartment building, sending about 20 people down a dangerous fall.  The company has already settled two lawsuits involving balconies with dry rot at two apartment buildings in California.

You can be charged with Manslaughter through Criminal Negligence

Manslaughter (aka involuntary manslaughter) is defined as the killing another human being without premeditation, malice, or planning.  It is unintentional, unlike murder and homicide.  It is a felony under California Penal Code 192(b), punishable by a maximum of 4 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Manslaughter typically comes up in the driving context, when someone unintentionally hits and kills someone with their car, for example.  This Berkeley tragedy shines a light on the fact that manslaughter charges actually come up in all kinds of contexts, such as negligent construction.  Moreover, the charge typically comes in partnership with other charges (ie. the California weapons law), or as a subpart of another greater charge, such as criminal negligence.  Here, the prosecutors will need to show that criminal negligence was involved in the collapse in order to file charges and gain convictions.  This is because manslaughter can be an example of criminal negligence, depending on the circumstances.

To be convicted of criminal negligence (aka gross negligence) in California, the prosecutor must prove that:

  • The defendant acted so recklessly s/he created a high risk of death or great bodily injury;
  • The defendant demonstrated a blatant disregard for human life; and
  • A reasonable person in a similar situation would not have acted that way.

While criminal negligence substitutes for criminal intent, it is limited in its application, and only extends to crimes based on accidental-type scenarios where you should have been aware of the dangers.  Thus, if you acted so unreasonably in such a manner that killed or severely injured someone, you may be convicted of involuntary manslaughter through criminal negligence.

Legal Defenses

Mere mistakes and accidents are not criminal negligence.  It requires more than just a mistake in judgement. To defend against a scenario where you face both criminal negligence and manslaughter charges, you must show that you had no reason to believe your actions were unreasonable or reckless.

San Diego Manslaughter, Homicide, and Criminal Negligence Attorney

Being charged in a crime that involves the death of someone is no joke.  Do not try to represent yourself.  The Law Offices of David M. Boertje has successfully represented many clients who have faced manslaughter, murder, or other felony charges.  Contact attorney David Boertje today for a free consultation.  We look forward to providing you with superior criminal defense representation.