A number of commenters took issue with my characterization of the difference between "voluntary" and "involuntary" manslaughter in the Oscar Grant case, pointing out that "reasonableness" is not a word used in the California penal code to distinguish one from the other.
192. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. It is of three kinds:
(a) Voluntary—upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.
(b) Involuntary—in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony; or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. This subdivision shall not apply to acts committed in the driving of a vehicle.
Although it's not in the legal language, "reasonable" was a word that was offered directly to the jury in the trial as a standard for evaluating Johannes Mehserle's actions, according to Julianne Hing:
Jurors were told that voluntary manslaughter is an act of murder that could be reduced to the lesser charge if Mehserle acted in "imperfect self-defense or imperfect defense of another." That is, Mehserle could be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter if believed he was in "imminent danger" and if he believed that he had to use deadly force to protect himself, but that "one of these beliefs was unreasonable." Presumably, jurors concluded that Mehserle had a reasonable belief that he was in danger.
Hopefully this clears things up. As Hing points out, Mehserle was able to correctly identify where his Taser was and unholster it twice that night. Furthermore, I'm still mystified as to why someone would feel the need to Taser a non-superpowered person who is handcuffed and lying face down on the ground. I don't doubt that Mehserle is remorseful about what happened after reading his letter; I just don't think this was "involuntary manslaughter."
Hing's piece should be read in full, as I think it clears up why the jury ultimately decided on the somewhat contradictory choice of a relatively lenient involuntary-manslaughter verdict with the gun enhancement that could add another decade to Mehserle's ultimate sentence.
In a somewhat related point, Sara Mayeux had some interesting thoughts from the perspective of someone trying to reconcile their belief that the U.S. is too punitive in general with a desire to see the Grant family receive some measure of justice.
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