what is involuntary manslaughter?

CA penal code sec 192(b) defines it as:

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.
(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.

"Malice" has a specific definition in criminal law, meaning "deliberate intention unlawfully to take away the life of a fellow creature." Voluntary manslaughter is death without malice "upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion."

so - this verdict found that mesherle was engaged in an act that was either lawful or non-felony unlawful in restraining Grant and attempting to subdue him. it found that because he did not take “due caution and circumspection” while engaging in that act, Grant died.  (please note that shooting dead a young black man is officially considered as a lack of “due caution.”)

the other charge on the table for mesherle was second degree murder. both first and second degree murder require “malice aforethought,” with the special definition of “malice” from above. CA penal code 189 defines first degree murder, saying anything that doesn’t fit into that definition is 2nd degree murder. first degree murder includes death through weapons of mass destruction, “knowing use of ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor, lying in wait or torture, “or any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing,” or any death that takes place while someone is engaged in arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping,  train wrecking, or a few other specific felonies, or a drive-by where the person in the car is intentionally shooting at someone outside the car with the intent of causing death. everything else is 2nd degree - but to be murder, it has to have the “malice aforethought” element.

so - looking at all that, what would you have convicted him of? which of those best describes your understanding of what happened?

personally, i have a hard time seeing how they could have convicted on 2nd degree murder. i haven’t seen any evidence presented showing that mesherle intended to kill grant. that it was his desire that his actions cause grant’s death. and that’s required to convict on 2nd degree murder. i probably would have gone for voluntary manslaughter - those videos of the station certainly suggested “heat of passion” to me.

does that mean i believe mehserle deserved nothing more than 2 years in jail? (standard sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 4 years, usually serve 2, there may be some gun enhancements to sentencing in this case but we’re probably talking 2-4 at most). absolutely not. but even if mehserle went to jail for the rest of his life, i have no confidence that would have any real effect on relationships with law enforcement in oakland, or give minorities the confidence that they’d be fairly treated by police, or restore justice to grant’s friends and families.

the power of a criminal trial is extremely limited. we have to find other means to find justice, to rectify this extraordinary harm, this violent breach of trust.