In one of those Florida stories that tend to make national news, an argument over a donut order escalated pretty quickly. First there were angry words. Then a punch was thrown. A short time later, a man was dead.
Here’s the set-up: A 77-year-old man went to the drive-thru at a donut shop. Something about his order displeased him, and he became upset. The old man was asked to leave, but instead he parked and went inside, where he began arguing with one of the shop’s employees, a 27-year-old Black man.
The old man reportedly called the young man a racial slur, and the young man dared him to say it again. The old man said it again, so the young man punched him in the face. The old man fell over, smacked his head on the concrete, and died a few days later. The young man is now facing a charge of aggravated manslaughter.
So what would happen if this occurred in Indiana? Easy—the young man is charged with murder. Indiana defines murder as the knowing or intentional killing of another human being. Most people who throw a single punch, however, don’t do so with the intention of killing someone. Murder, which carries a maximum penalty of 65 years in prison, would likely be difficult to prove.
Voluntary manslaughter is murder with a mitigating factor. In Indiana, if you killed someone under sudden heat—that is, if you were experiencing anger, rage, resentment, or terror that was sufficient to obscure the reason of an ordinary person—that can have the effect of reducing a murder charge. Voluntary manslaughter is a Level 2 felony that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
In a case like this, a more appropriate charge might be involuntary manslaughter, which Indiana defines in relevant part as when a person kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit:
- a Level 5 or Level 6 felony that inherently poses a risk of serious bodily injury;
- a Class A misdemeanor that inherently poses a risk of serious bodily injury; or
The State might also charge aggravated battery in a case like this. Indiana defines aggravated battery as occurring when a person knowingly or intentionally inflicts injury on a person that creates a substantial risk of death or causes:
- serious permanent disfigurement;
- protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ; or
- the loss of a fetus.
Aggravated battery is a Level 3 felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison.
If you’re unclear on the moral of this story, it’s that violence can have unpredictable results. If you need to physically protect yourself and those around you, that’s one thing. But if someone is being rude and talking trash? Maybe don’t hit them in the mouth. You never know how the situation is going to play out.
What happens if you smack someone who’s sassy and unsteady on their feet? If they take a hard fall, you might be looking at a profoundly serious criminal charge, all because your temper flared over some nasty language. Try not to greet words with violence, but if you do, remember—always plead the 5th!