A good example of what Involuntary Manslaughter is not

Many people don’t understand the differences between murder and involuntary manslaughter. After all, in both cases someone has been killed, and someone else caused the death. However, there are important differences that can be illuminated through the examination of a recent case in the South Carolina Court of Appeals.
In this case, which is an appeal of a post conviction relief application, the defendant, Morris Antonio Sullivan, was convicted of several charges including voluntary manslaughter. The case, Morris Antonio Sullivan v. State of South Carolina, Appellate Case No. 2010-151951, results from the defendant’s conviction after an altercation with another man. After an altercation with the man, both went into Sullivan’s house to continue the argument. Sullivan retrieved a gun and told the victim to leave. He did not leave and continued arguing. Sullivan fired three shots, killing the victim.
The jury was charged (told they should consider) on several crimes that Sullivan could have been convicted of, including involuntary manslaughter. He was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. Sullivan applied for post conviction relief, holding that he had ineffective assistance of counsel. Sullivan argued that his lawyer should have requested the jury be instructed on the case of State v. Burriss, 334 S.C. 256, 513 S.E.2d 104 (1999), in the court’s charge on involuntary manslaughter. In that case, it was established that a person can be acting lawfully if he is entitled to arm himself in self-defense at the time of the shooting.
In Sullivan’s case, he admitted that he intentionally shot the gun. He stated that they had fought for the gun, and that he had gotten it. The victim stated he wasn’t afraid to die, and then Sullivan shot him. However, this is where it gets technical. According to Douglas v. State, 332 S.C. 67, 74, 504 S.E.2d 307, 310 (1998), “involuntary manslaughter is at its core an unintentional killing.” Further it was stated in that case, “when the victim was killed by a gunshot, and no evidence is presented showing the defendant fired the gun unintentionally, the defendant is not entitled to a charge of involuntary manslaughter.”
So, in this case, while he did arm himself in self-defense, he did intend to shoot the gun when he did, so he was not entitled to have the jury charged on involuntary manslaughter. Therefore, his lawyer had acted correctly, and his application for post conviction relief was denied. I hope this helps, and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at jimcourtneylaw@ymail.com or (843) 822-9800.

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