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Involuntary manslaughter in the State of Rhode Island is defined as an unintentional homicide without malice aforethought committed either in performance of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or in the performance of a lawful act with criminal negligence. That definition clearly creates two distinct theories of involuntary manslaughter: one based on criminal negligence theory and one based on unlawful act theory, misdemeanor manslaughter. The State must show first that a misdemeanor occurred and then that such misdemeanor was the proximate cause of the victim's death. Rhode Island is the first state to limit the unlawful act to misdemeanors; it also has the first case to specify that the unlawful act must proximately cause the death.
Defendant Daniel Biechele was the "tour manager" of "Great White," a band that performed at The Station, a nightclub located in Warwick, Rhode Island. On February 20, 2003, Biechele allegedly ignited pyrotechnic devices inside the Station as part of the band's performance. The ignition of the pyrotechnics would have constituted a misdemeanor if Biechele was not licensed to possess, control, or use the pyrotechnics under R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-13-1. The State alleged that the pyrotechnics started a fire inside the nightclub that proximately caused the deaths of 100 people. Biechele moved to dismiss the misdemeanor manslaughter counts for failure to state an offense, for failure to provide fair warning, and on the grounds that the grand jury trial was based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
Did pyrotechnic gerbs fall within the ambit of the firework statute?
The court found that the misdemeanor manslaughter counts properly stated chargeable offenses since § 11-13-1 was the prohibitory statute and pyrotechnics were included in that statute's definition of fireworks. Section 11-13-1 gave reasonable notice as to the conduct prohibited since the reference in the statute to R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-28.11-4 (1997) of the Fire Safety Code allowed individuals to ascertain how to comply and defined to whom the permit requirement applied.