You probably know what homicide means. Put simply, it is when one person deliberately kills another.
When you hear the word “homicide,” you might think of TV police shows where killers carefully plan out their crimes or of gang violence where teens are shooting each other down. Our area has certainly had more than its share of these types of homicides lately.
However, there is another type of homicide recognized by the state of Illinois: reckless homicide. With reckless homicide, someone engages in dangerous behavior that leads to the death of another – even if they weren’t intending to kill that person. Or anyone.
Jesse Gaither recently learned about reckless homicide the hard way.
Lawndale Man Charged with Reckless Homicide
Jesse Gaither, of Lawndale, was driving on South Kedzie Avenue when he hit a 35-year-old female pedestrian on the crosswalk. Due to Gaither’s speed, the woman was thrown up in the air and into the opposite lane, where she was struck by another vehicle. Gaither sped away, but the driver of the second vehicle stayed on the scene.
Now, Gaither may not have meant to hit the woman at all. Moreover, he may not have understood the full impact his car had or the consequences of his driving. None of that mattered when police arrested him, though.
Not only was he was charged with reckless homicide, he was also cited for reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He is currently being held in jail on a $300,000 bond.
Let’s go back to Gaither’s intentions for a moment. Again, he may not have been driving in order to hit the victim. It is quite possible – likely, even – that he was just driving recklessly. Someone died due to his actions, though. These types of situations are what involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide charges are for.
What’s the Difference between Involuntary Manslaughter and Reckless Homicide in Illinois?
Our state actually defines both criminal acts under the same statute. Here’s the actual language:
“A person who unintentionally kills an individual without lawful justification commits involuntary manslaughter if his acts whether lawful or unlawful which cause the death are such as are likely to cause death or great bodily harm to some individual, and he performs them recklessly, except in cases in which the cause of the death consists of the driving of a motor vehicle or operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft, in which case the person commits reckless homicide. A person commits reckless homicide if he or she unintentionally kills an individual while driving a vehicle and using an incline in a roadway, such as a railroad crossing, bridge approach, or hill, to cause the vehicle to become airborne.”
In other words, involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide charges are essentially the same thing, except that reckless homicide involves the following:
- Operating a motor vehicle
- Operating a snowmobile
- Operating an all-terrain vehicle
- Operating a watercraft
If Jesse Gaither had killed a woman by accidentally firing a gun pointed in her direction, he may have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Because he was behind the wheel, though, his charges are called “reckless homicide.”
Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide charges are both class 3 felonies. Penalties include 2-5 years in prison, or 5-10 years for an extended term class 3 felony.
There are some cases where involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide becomes a class 2 felony (which comes with recommended penalties of 3-7 or 7-14 years behind bars). These cases include:
- Killing two or more people
- The victim was a family or household member
- Killing a peace officer
- Committing reckless homicide where a crossing guard is present to help children cross the street to school
Additional charges or citations may be added, like in the case of Gaither, for reckless driving, fleeing the scene, and so on. Moreover, if you had alcohol in your system at the time the reckless homicide was committed, you may also face DUI charges. If you have been charged with involuntary manslaughter or reckless homicide, contact a knowledgeable Illinois defense lawyer immediately.
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 SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Association, and other notable organizations, and has spoken at a number of legal conferences.