4701 Oleander Drive, Suite A
Myrtle Beach, SC 29577

Jennifer Crumbley was Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter in Michigan – James Crumbley’s Trial Begins Next Week

Jennifer Crumbley was Convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter in Michigan – James Crumbley’s Trial Begins Next Week
Axelrod & Associates, P.A.

You may have heard about Jennifer and James Crumbleys’ prosecutions for manslaughter in Michigan after their teenaged child committed a mass shooting at his high school.

Ethan Crumbley, at age 16, pled guilty to murder and terrorism after shooting and killing four of his classmates and injuring seven others.

Ethan’s mother, Jennifer Crumbly, was convicted of manslaughter at trial last month for not doing enough to stop the shooting, and Ethan’s father, James Crumbley, is expected to start trial next week on manslaughter charges for not preventing the shooting.

We’ve blogged before about parental liability when your teenaged child gets into an auto accident, but this is different. This is criminal liability…

What is involuntary manslaughter, and how can they arrest, prosecute, and convict a parent for a crime their child committed? Could this happen in South Carolina?

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

In general terms, manslaughter is an unlawful killing that is something less than murder. It is unlawful because the killing was not justified or legally excused, for example by self-defense or defense of others.

There is no malice – the state of mind required for a murder conviction. In many cases, a manslaughter conviction is based on criminal negligence instead of willful or intentional conduct.

What that means exactly depends on the state where you live, and manslaughter is defined differently under South Carolina law and Michigan law.

Involuntary Manslaughter in Michigan

Can a parent be convicted of manslaughter based on a murder committed by their child in Michigan?

As of today, the answer is yes…

Involuntary manslaughter is not defined by statute in Michigan, although Michigan Penal Code § 750.321 sets the penalty for conviction at up to 15 years in prison, a fine of up to $7500, or both.

Manslaughter is an unlawful killing without malice.

Involuntary manslaughter is a common-law offense in Michigan, and the elements are defined by case law. See, People v. Datema (“In Michigan, the penalty for manslaughter is codified, but the definition is left to the common law. People v Stubenvoll, 62 Mich 329, 331; 28 NW 883 (1886). As noted by this Court in People v McMurchy, 249 Mich 147, 162; 228 NW 723 (1930), “The law of manslaughter as it exists today has been adopted from the old English common law.””)

Voluntary manslaughter includes “all homicides whether intentional or unintentional which are committed with a person-endangering-state-of-mind and are not justified or excused but are perpetrated under circumstances of recognized mitigation.”

Involuntary manslaughter in Michigan “is a catch-all concept including all manslaughter not characterized as voluntary.” Involuntary manslaughter can include situations where a death was caused by the defendant’s negligence or where a death results and there is an underlying crime, similar to SC’s felony murder rule (but it applies to misdemeanors like assault and battery).

With Ethan Crumbley’s parents, the prosecutor’s theory is that the parents were criminally negligent, and their negligence resulted in the deaths of their child’s classmates.

Involuntary Manslaughter in South Carolina

Like Michigan law, manslaughter in South Carolina is an unlawful killing without malice (if there is “malice aforethought” the charge is murder).

Manslaughter is also a common law offense in SC, but the elements of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are defined differently than they are in Michigan.

Voluntary manslaughter, which carries a minimum of two and up to 30 years in prison, is 1) an unlawful killing (not excused or justified by self-defense or another defense), 2) that was committed in the “sudden heat of passion,” 3) upon sufficient legal provocation.

Involuntary manslaughter in SC, which carries up to five years in prison, requires proof of:

  1. An unintentional killing, without malice, while engaged in an unlawful activity not naturally tending to cause death or great bodily harm, or
  2. An unintentional killing, without malice, while engaged in a lawful activity.

How is this different from Michigan’s law?

In South Carolina, it is not likely that a defendant would be convicted of manslaughter based on a killing committed by someone else.


I would have a hard time reconciling the language “unintentional killing” with the idea that the “killing” was committed by someone else and not the defendant.

Assuming that the defendant’s negligence could be said to have caused the deaths because the defendant provided a firearm to an individual who the defendant knew was mentally ill, it’s still not “a killing” committed by the defendant.

Even if we are talking about civil liability, are the parents the proximate cause of the injury (the shooting)? If the parents provision of the firearm to the teen or their failure to provide mental health treatment is a cause of the injury, was the teenager’s decision to shoot and kill his classmates an intervening cause?

The killing was committed by someone else. Unless there is another theory that would make the parent criminally liable – accomplice liability or conspiracy if the parent knowingly participated in the crime, for example – South Carolina’s version of manslaughter just doesn’t apply.

Ethan Crumbley’s Mother was Convicted – How did it Happen?

Ethan’s mother Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of involuntary manslaughter last week. How?

The prosecutors spent much of their time at trial proving that Jennifer Crumbley was a bad person and a bad parent – she ignored her child’s pleas for help, she was having an extramarital affair, she wasn’t supportive to school personnel.

The prosecutors in her trial also showed the jurors excerpts from Ethan’s journal where he talked about how he wasn’t getting help for his mental health problems, that his parents ignored him, and that it was going to cause him to shoot up the school.

Although the parents’ defense is that they restricted their son’s access to the firearm, the prosecutor successfully excluded from the trial excerpts from the same journal where Ethan said, “I will have to find where my dad hid my gun before I can shoot (up) the school.”

This kind of selective presentation of only the most damning evidence, while hiding from jurors any evidence that contradicts the prosecutor’s theory, sanctioned by the court’s evidentiary rulings, may have a lot to do with how a parent was convicted for their child’s criminal acts.

Ethan’s Father James Crumbley’s Trial Begins Next Week

Next week, James Crumbley’s trial begins, and the prosecutors will most likely argue that James Crumbley did not restrict access to the firearm, as they simultaneously refuse to allow jurors to hear that Ethan wrote in his journal “I will have to find where my dad hid my gun before I can shoot (up) the school.”

The prosecutor argues, and the judge agreed in the mother’s trial, that there are hearsay exceptions for Ethan’s complaints about his parents written in his journal (state of mind), but there are no hearsay exceptions for the part where Ethan says his dad hid the gun.

How about the Rule of Completeness?

Rule 106, Michigan Rules of Evidence says, “If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part—or any other writing or recorded statement—that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time.

Got Axelrod?

If you have been charged with a crime in SC, if you have been convicted of a crime and need help filing your appeal, or if you won an appeal and need help retrying your case, call now at 843-353-3449 or email us online to speak with a criminal defense lawyer on the Axelrod team today.

Recent Posts



Need help? Contact Axelrod & Associates, P.A.

Our Locations

Medios de Comunicación Social:


Request your

The fields marked with * are mandatory.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.