In a recent tragedy at a Michigan youth home, intent played a role in determining the homicide charges of three former employees.
According to an investigation by state authorities, the three staff members may have been responsible for the death of a 16-year-old Black boy. The employees allegedly sat on his chest, abdomen, and legs in an attempt to pin him down.
Youth Home Tragedy Ends in Involuntary Manslaughter Charges
The staff members reportedly held him down for 12 minutes before he became unresponsive. According to reports, staff members neglected to perform CPR or call for medical help until 12 minutes later.
The boy died from a heart attack 30 hours later in a hospital. According to the autopsy, his death was the result of “restraint asphyxia” or suffocation from excessive restraint.
The three staff members have been charged with the boy’s death. In addition to child abuse charges, the employees are facing homicide charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Because the homicide was believed to be unintentional, the charge comes with up to 15 years in prison. Had the crime been deemed intentional, the penalties would have been much worse.
Homicide Laws and Penalties
To understand how intent plays a role in determining homicide charges, let’s take a look at homicide laws there and here in Illinois. Both Michigan and Illinois share similar homicide laws that take intention into account. We’ve compared the different levels of homicide crimes and their penalties in both states below.
In both Illinois and Michigan, first-degree murder is the intentional killing of another person. In Michigan, first-degree murder must be premeditated, meaning you thought about killing another person before committing the murder — even if it was only seconds before.
In both states, first-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment.
In both Illinois and Michigan, felony murder is any death that occurs while committing or attempting to commit another felony. With this crime, it does not matter if the death was intentional or not.
In both states, felony murder is punishable by life imprisonment.
In both states, second-degree murder is generally considered to be an intentional murder without premeditation. In Michigan, second-degree murder is defined as an unplanned but intentional killing or any death caused by reckless disregard for human life.
Similarly, Illinois defines second-degree as murder committed in unreasonable self dense or driven by intense passion.
In Michigan, second-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment. In Illinois, it is different. Second-degree murder is punishable by a sentence of between four and twenty years in prison with a fine of up to $25,000.
In both Illinois and Michigan, involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unintentional killing of another person due to reckless conduct or criminal negligence.
In Michigan, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by 15 years in prison with a fine of up to $7,500. However, a vastly different set of penalties, in Illinois, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by a sentence of between two and five years in prison with a fine of up to $25,000.
Reckless or Negligent Homicide
In both Illinois and Michigan, reckless homicide is the negligent driving of a car, snowmobile, or watercraft that results in the accidental killing of a person.
In Michigan, negligent homicide is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. In Illinois, reckless homicide is punishable by a sentence of between two to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
The Intent Defense
In both Michigan or Illinois, the existence of an intent to commit a crime can be the difference between life imprisonment or several years in prison.
But what exactly does “intent” mean? To qualify as first-degree murder, you have to typically have to knowingly commit murder and intend to cause the other person’s death as a result.
If you knowingly commit a felony that results in the unintentional death of another person, this is considered a felony murder — and punished just as severely.
Proving Intent is Key
In order to prove intent in criminal court, the prosecution must show evidence that is believable and sufficient to prove you committed every element of the crime intentionally. In order to prove you are guilty, your intent must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, because the intent is a mental state, it can be difficult to prove. An attorney may be able to help you build a case that shows your crime was involuntary, and potentially reduce your murder charge and shorten your sentence by years of your life.
About the Author
Sami Azhari has been working as a lawyer since 2007, after receiving his Juris Doctor from the Michigan State University College of Law. He has handled numerous state and federal cases, and is known throughout the Chicago and Rolling Meadows area for providing his clients with high-quality, skilled representation. He has been recognized by Avvo (2013 and 2018), SuperLawyers (2015-2020), The National Trial Lawyers, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.