Commentary by Beth Karas, In Session Correspondent on TruTV/HLN
Many have questioned why Dr. Conrad Murray is not facing a second degree murder charge. The decision to pursue the lesser homicide, involuntary manslaughter, was made by the Los Angeles County District Attorney, Steve Cooley.
So, how do the two crimes differ?
There’s a fine difference between a theory of second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in California. That theory of second degree murder is a killing committed with implied malice. The lesser-included charge of that theory is involuntary manslaughter.
Both are unintentional killings, but there’s a big difference in the potential sentences. Second degree murder carries 15 years to life and involuntary manslaughter carries up to four years in prison.
Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. If it’s not premeditated or a capital murder, then it’s second degree murder. Malice aforethought does not mean hatred or ill will toward the victim. Malice can be express or implied. Implied malice includes the element of “conscious disregard for human life.”
When a person commits an unlawful, unintentional killing and does not act with conscious disregard for human life, then the crime is involuntary manslaughter.
Thus, the critical difference between the two crimes is that one requires “conscious disregard for human life” and the other does not. Jurors are instructed that the difference between other homicide offenses and involuntary manslaughter depends on “whether the person was aware of the risk of life that his actions created and consciously disregarded that risk.”
The facts against Murray, arguably, establish an awareness of the risk of life and a conscious disregard for that life. The evidence, thus far, has shown myriad errors by Murray. Experts have opined that administering the anesthetic propofol to treat insomnia at home, without appropriate ventilation and emergency equipment on hand, then leaving Jackson’s side for several minutes, was “inconceivable and unconscionable.”
While Michael Jackson’s fans have been very vocal in their disapproval of the decision to seek the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, many believe it was the appropriate charge. Yet there are some who believe this is a medical malpractice case that should only be fought in civil court.
Regardless of which crime he faces, it seems clear that Murray’s medical licenses in three states are in serious jeopardy.
Complete courtroom coverage of the Conrad Murray trial airs live on HLN from gavel to gavel. It’s also on In Session on truTV from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET every weekday.
Posted by: In Session Correspondent Beth Karas