The Line Between Involuntary and Voluntary Manslaughter

More clarity on the ruling in Johannes Mesherle's killing of Oscar Grant.

By Kai Wright Jul 15, 2010

Check out Julianne Hing’s [update to her post-verdict analysis](/archives/2010/07/oscar_grant_verdict_whats_inside_the_jurys_ruling.html) of Johannes Mehserle’s trial. She’s topped the article off with more clarity on what the involuntary manslaughter ruling means, from a strictly legal perspective:

There’s been a lot of debate, here and on other sites, about whether the jury believed Oscar Grant and his friends presented a threat to the police and others on the transit platform. Here’s one point worth clarifying in our own analysis: Intent is the bright line between involuntary manslaughter and the more serious charges Johannes Mehserle faced. So all we can say definitively about the ruling is that the jury concluded the killing was unintentional. As detailed below, I believe that the defense’s effort to establish Grant as a threat contributed to the jury’s thinking about whether Mehserle drew and fired his gun intentionally. Legally, if the jury fully embraced the threat argument, they’d have to acquit. But we may never know how jurors reached their awkward decision. Garrick Lew, a San Francisco criminal defense attorney, gave me a useful perspective this week: Juries that are unable to come to a consensus often choose intermediate charges and return compromise verdicts–even verdicts that are not based on evidence presented in court–so as to avoid a mistrial. Lew was confident that this was the case in Mehserle’s verdict, considering how little time the jury took to reach a decision. With competing narratives, dozens of pieces of evidence and six videos to consider, not to mention 13 pages of jury instructions written in full legalese, I’d agree there was no other way the jury could have returned their verdict so quickly.