Communicating With Your Attorney

Can "Tough Love" Lead To Manslaughter Charges?

  If you're dealing with someone that has a problem with depression, drug addiction, or alcoholism, it can be tempting to let your frustration get the better of you and engage in some sort of "tough love." However, be careful that you don't cross the line into indifference -- if you do, you could end up facing charges. Here's what you should understand about involuntary manslaughter in these situations.

What is involuntary manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is a criminal charge used to describe an event where someone is responsible for someone else's death but it wasn't deliberate or done out of malice. There is no premeditation, or forethought, involved.

While manslaughter is treated less severely than murder, it's still a serious crime. State laws vary on the minimum sentence, but federal guidelines establish a base sentence of 10 to 16 months in prison.

How can tough love lead to manslaughter charges?

All it takes is the wrong phrase, uttered out of desperation or a desire to help someone end their distress. For example, a Massachusetts teen is facing involuntary manslaughter charges after being accused of badgering her boyfriend into suicide. On previous occasions, she'd encouraged him to get counseling for his depression, but she'd apparently exceeded her tolerance for his problems. The teen claimed in a note to a friend that she couldn't stand to watch her boyfriend living with the constant depression and suicide attempts and she just wanted it to be over.

Essentially, anyone could potentially face similar charges for saying something like, "Go ahead and kill yourself, then," to someone that is suicidal. The intention behind your words doesn't matter, because intent isn't a consideration for involuntary manslaughter charges.

In another case, a Michigan man, frustrated with his girlfriend's alcoholic behavior and drunken antics, allowed her to wander outside into freezing weather without protective clothing. She was without her phone and too drunk to get back inside on her own. When she subsequently froze to death, he was handed a 19-month minimum jail sentence.

You can't abandon someone to their own devices when they are too drunk or too high to take care of themselves. If they die, you run the risk of being charged, even if you were only trying to teach them a lesson in personal responsibility.

What puts the responsibility back on you?

If the prosecution can reasonably say that the death occurred because of your action and that your action was needlessly reckless or that you should have known what you were doing could lead to someone's death, you can be held responsible.

What should you do instead?

Instead of trying to handle the problem yourself, the best thing to do -- if you have hit the point where you are unable to continue coping with the other person's problems -- is to alert the authorities. Call an ambulance or report the suicidal intentions to the police. There are systems in place to deal with situations like that and you'll be relieved of your responsibility for anything else that happens. For more information about criminal liability, contact a lawyer, such as Alexander & Associates, P.C.