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France: Germanwings Crash Being Investigated as Homicide

(Mar. 26, 2015) The March 25, 2015, crash of a Germanwings flight in the French Alps is being investigated as a potential involuntary homicide. (Crash de l’A320: Hollande, Merkel et Rajoy se recueillent sur les lieux du drame [A320 Crash: Hollande, Merkel and Rajoy Gather to Mourn on the Location of the Disaster], LE POINT (Mar. 25, 2015).) The investigation is being conducted by the French National Gendarmerie under the supervision of the office of the prosecutor of Marseilles. (Id.)

Involuntary homicide is defined in French law by article 221-6 of the French Code pénal (Penal Code) as the act of causing the death of another through “clumsiness, imprudence, distraction, negligence, or failure to follow a duty of care or prudence mandated by law or regulation.” (CODE PENAL, art. 221-6, LEGIFRANCE.) Article 221-6 also includes “evidently deliberate violation of a specific duty of care or prudence mandated by law or regulation,” although such deliberate violation entails a heavier potential sentence. (Id.)

The Marseilles prosecutor’s office may convert the investigation for involuntary homicide into one for voluntary homicide, based on evidence that the copilot may have intentionally crashed the airplane. (Crash A320 GermanWings: seul dans le cockpit, le copilote a agi avec “la volonté de détruire cet avion” [GermanWings A320 Crash: Alone in the Cockpit, the Copilot Acted with “the will to destroy this airplane”], FRANCE SOIR (Mar. 26, 2015).) Voluntary homicide, referred to simply as murder in the French Penal Code, is defined by article 221-1 as the act of voluntarily causing the death of another (CODE PENAL, art. 221-1, LEGIFRANCE.)