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Parents charged after Michigan school shooting: what is involuntary manslaughter?

Prosecutors in Michigan have taken the unusual step of charging the parents of Ethan Crumbley for reportedly buying the gun used in the horrific attack.

Update:
Prosecutors in Michigan have taken the unusual step of charging the parents of Ethan Crumbley for reportedly buying the gun used in the horrific attack.
SCOTT OLSONAFP

The prosecutor has confirmed that the parents of a teenager accused of killing four students in a school shooting in Michigan will be charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Jennifer and James Crumbley are being charged for their role in the tragic events after James is thought to have purchased the weapon for his 15-year-old son just days before the attack took place.

The accused, Ethan Crumbley, has been charged as an adult for the shooting and faces more than two dozen charges including murder, attempted murder and terrorism.

In Michigan law an involuntary manslaughter charge can be brought on those who contributed to a situation which had the risk of harm or death. Jennifer and James face up to 15 years in prison is found guilty.

What is involuntary manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter can be brought against people who, despite having no plan or intent to kill, their negligent or reckless actions have contributed to a situation where that has occurred. The actions in question can be either legal or illegal.

Unlike charges of murder or other homicide counts, involuntary manslaughter typically has much lighter penalties due to the lack of intent. However a guilty charge can still illicit a significant prison sentence and is often treated as a felony on both federal and state levels.

Involuntary manslaughter charges can cover a wide range of crimes and so the sentencing guidelines vary greatly. Most states consider involuntary manslaughter as either a Class C or Class D felony offence but judges typically have a great deal of discretion in terms of sentencing.

Shooter’s parents’ actions went “far beyond negligence”

It is extremely rare for the parents of a school shooting suspect to be charged in connection with the crime but the shocking events appear to have left prosecutors with little option. Reports suggest that the gun was purchased just days before the attack took place and that Ethan’s parents had been required to meet with teachers from the school to discuss his behaviour just hours before the shooting.

On Thursday Oakland county prosecutor Karen McDonald told reporters: “The parents were the only individuals in the position to know the access to weapons,” adding that the gun “seems to have been just freely available to that individual”.

“All I can say at this point is those actions on mom and dad’s behalf go far beyond negligence,” she continued. “We obviously are prosecuting the shooter to the fullest extent … There are other individuals who should be held accountable.”

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