An act is criminally negligent when a man of ordinary prudence would foresee that the act would cause a high degree of risk of death or great bodily harm. Whether the conduct of defendant was wanton or reckless so as to warrant conviction of manslaughter must be determined from the conduct itself and not from the resultant harm. Criminal liability cannot be predicated on every careless act merely because its carelessness results in injury to another. The act must be one that has knowable and apparent potentialities for resulting in death. Mere inattention or mistake in judgment resulting even in death of another is not criminal unless the quality of the act makes it so. The fundamental requirement fixing criminal responsibility is knowledge, actual or imputed, that the act of the accused tended to endanger life.
Defendant's home caught on fire with her children inside. A baby died as a result. Defendant was not at home at the time of the fire. The trial court found defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter and denied a new trial. On defendant’s appeal, the appellate court reversed the judgment of conviction and the order denying a new trial.
Did the evidence prove criminal negligence on the part of defendant who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of her child due to fire while she was away from home?
The evidence failed to establish that defendant had the knowledge, actual or imputed, that her actions tended to endanger life and that the fatal consequences of the negligent act could reasonably have been foreseen. The only reasonable view of the evidence was that the death of the baby was the result of misadventure and not the natural and probable result of a criminally negligent act. There was no evidence that defendant realized her conduct would have in all probability produced death. There was also no evidence as to the cause of the fire or connecting defendant in any way with the fire. Although defendant might have been negligent, mere negligence was not sufficient to authorize a conviction of involuntary manslaughter.