To a person in the 21st century, “manslaughter” sounds a bit archaic, even odd. In fact, the word might be even more strange if you know its legal meaning.
People today associate “slaughter” with killing animals for food, which brings to mind images of a large-scale and often brutal process. So, it’s understandable for some to squirm when they hear the terms “man” and “slaughter” mentioned in one sentence, much more combined in one word.
But a simple Google search of “manslaughter” will likely yield the same answer: manslaughter is an indeliberate criminal act, a crime less severe than murder.
You will also find that, like other offenses, states categorize manslaughter in degrees, specifying the severity of the crime and the punishment (such as fines and jail time) each degree carries.
Another potentially confusing aspect of legal definitions for the layperson: you’d think that a second-degree crime is worse than a first-degree one. After all, a third-degree burn is much worse than a first-degree one, right?
However, in sentencing guidelines, the degrees go the opposite direction when describing severity, with first-degree crimes being the most severe.
Suppose you or your loved one faces a charge of second-degree manslaughter. In that case, you should know how it differs from its variants (first- and third-degree manslaughter) and related criminal charges like murder.
Understanding these legal nuances can inform you regarding possible penalties, such as fines and jail time (maximum or minimum sentences).
This article discusses second-degree manslaughter, including what it is and the penalties (such as fines and jail time) it carries. Learn more about what to do when you face this criminal charge.
What Is Manslaughter?
Section 1112 of Title 18 of the United States Code (USC) states that manslaughter is the illegal killing of a human without malice.
The statute also classifies manslaughter into voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by incarceration for up to 10 years or a fine. On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter carries a prison sentence of up to six years, a fine, or both.
The Degrees of Manslaughter
Some states group manslaughter charges into degrees instead of categorizing them as involuntary and voluntary, with first-degree manslaughter receiving harsher punishments than second and third-degree manslaughter.
Which Is Worse, Manslaughter 1 or 2?
Again, sentencing policies in the U.S. generally consider manslaughter 1 (first-degree manslaughter) as more grave than manslaughter 2 (second-degree manslaughter).
The former refers to a deliberate criminal act, while the latter lacks intention. For instance, the New York Penal Code for homicide and related offenses differentiates “aggravated manslaughter 2” and “aggravated manslaughter 1” this way:
- Aggravated manslaughter 1: Recklessly cause the death of a peace or police officer.
- Aggravated manslaughter 2: Intentionally cause grave physical injury to law enforcement or peace officer resulting in death.
As mentioned above, each state classifies manslaughter differently. For instance, the state of Washington categorizes manslaughter into first and second degrees.
An individual is guilty of first-degree manslaughter if they committed any of the following acts:
- Recklessly cause the death of another individual.
- Intentionally and illegally kill an unborn quick child by inflicting harm upon the mother of the child.
An unborn quick child is a fetus that has reached a stage of development capable of displaying signs of life and movement in the womb.
First-degree manslaughter is a class A felony in the state of Washington.
In Washington, an individual is guilty of second-degree manslaughter when, with criminal negligence, they cause someone else’s death. The state considers manslaughter in the second degree a class B felony.
What’s the Difference Between 2nd and 3rd Degree Manslaughter?
Some states categorize manslaughter up to a third degree.
Second-degree manslaughter is more or less severe than third-degree manslaughter, depending on how a jurisdiction legally defines “manslaughter in the third degree.”
In Minnesota state, individuals who commit any of the following acts are guilty of second-degree manslaughter:
- Engage in culpable negligence by undertaking an unreasonable risk and actively assuming chances of causing death or significant physical injury to another individual.
- Shoot another individual with a firearm or other lethal weapon due to negligently mistaking them for a deer or other animal.
- Set up a pitfall, spring gun, deadfall, snare, or other dangerous device or weapon.
- Negligently or deliberately allow an animal, known to behave viciously or to have caused severe physical harm before, to stray without supervision off the owner’s premises or fail to confine it appropriately.
- Violate or attempt to violate criminal laws regarding the neglect or endangerment of a child that does not lead to a first, second, or third-degree murder.
People guilty of this crime may be sentenced to up to 10 years in jail or prison, pay a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
Some say that third-degree murder can be an equivalent term to third-degree manslaughter. Following this definition, here’s what manslaughter in the third degree means in Minnesota:
- Whoever, without intending to cause the death of any individual, causes the death of someone else by perpetrating an act hazardous to others and possessing a depraved mind indifferent to the value of human life is guilty of third-degree murder.
The convicted individual may be imprisoned for a maximum of 25 years.
- Whoever, without intent to cause death, directly causes the death of a human being by unlawfully giving away, selling, bartering, exchanging, delivering, distributing, or administering a controlled substance is guilty of murder in the third degree.
The convicted individual may be incarcerated for up to 25 years. Alternatively, they may face a fine of up to $40,000 or both.
In this case, third-degree manslaughter carries harsher penalties than manslaughter in the second degree.
Aggravated Second-Degree Manslaughter
Some states, like New York, differentiate regular second-degree manslaughter from its aggravated version.
Individuals may be guilty of aggravated second-degree manslaughter if their case meets the following criteria:
- The perpetrator caused the death of a law enforcement or peace officer performing their official duties.
- The offender knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a police or peace officer.
New York penal code considers aggravated manslaughter in the second degree a class C felony.
What Is The Difference Between The Different Degrees Of Manslaughter?
The abovementioned degrees of manslaughter differ based on the following factors:
- Culpability and intent: The types of manslaughter primarily vary based on the presence (or lack of) intent and culpability.
- Severity and circumstances: The degrees also differ depending on the circumstances surrounding the criminal act.
For example, voluntary manslaughter may happen due to sudden provocation or an intense emotional response, resulting in a lesser charge than murder.
- Legal implications: Manslaughter has varying legal consequences depending on its degree.
In jurisdictions recognizing degrees of manslaughter, penalties become harsher as culpability, intent, and severity increase.
Understanding the difference between these potential charges of manslaughter is crucial.
Say you’ve been charged with manslaughter. When you consult your criminal defense attorney, they will assess your case and explain which offense applies to your situation. They can also determine whether you can negotiate a plea deal to reduce the charge.
Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and second- and third-degree murder for allegedly causing the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, while under police custody.
In a viral video, Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe.
The second-degree manslaughter charge asserts that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death by “culpable negligence,” meaning he allegedly created an unreasonable risk and deliberately took chances resulting in death or serious bodily injury.”
What Is a Sentence for Second-Degree Manslaughter?
Like other crimes, the sentencing outcomes for manslaughter in the second degree depend on the jurisdiction’s sentencing guidelines.
In New York, second-degree manslaughter is a class C felony. If you get convicted of this crime, you will face a maximum of 15 years in state prison and be required to pay a considerable fine.
What Are the Types of Manslaughter Offenses?
Aside from degrees, jurisdictions also categorize manslaughter offenses into exceptional cases depending on the circumstances surrounding the act. Below are examples of these manslaughter cases.
Legal statutes call this crime “vehicular homicide,” in which the defendant’s negligent and unlawful motor vehicle operation led to another individual’s death.
The laws of each jurisdiction regarding vehicular manslaughter can vary, but this criminal offense is generally easier to establish than manslaughter because it involves less culpable mens rea (criminal intent).
What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?
Voluntary manslaughter means the “unlawful killing” of another human without malice, deliberation, or premeditation.
Elements of Voluntary Manslaughter
The state may have to establish the following things to prove voluntary manslaughter:
- The defendant killed someone by committing an illegal act that is a felony or likely to cause death or significant bodily harm.
- The defendant’s act was the proximate (direct) cause of the victim’s death.
How Is Voluntary Manslaughter Punished?
States may vary regarding penalties for voluntary manslaughter, but the federal statutory maximum prison term for voluntary manslaughter is 10 years.
What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?
This type of manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing resulting from criminal negligence, reckless homicide, or dangerous or impaired driving.
Elements of Involuntary Manslaughter
The state prosecutors must prove the following when charging an individual for involuntary manslaughter:
- The unintentional killing of an individual was proximately caused by an illegal act that is neither criminal nor inherently dangerous to human life.
- There was a grave act of negligence, such as a willful, intentional, or wanton violation of an ordinance or a statute designed to protect human life or limb.
How Is Involuntary Manslaughter Punished?
As mentioned, while jurisdictions have separate statutes regarding involuntary manslaughter, the statutory maximum for this offense is six years.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter
The primary difference between involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter comes down to the presence (or lack of) intent.
Voluntary manslaughter occurs when an intentional act causes death or great bodily harm.
In contrast, involuntary manslaughter may be based on an intentional act that poses no inherent danger to human life or on an act of recklessness.
DUI (driving under the influence) manslaughter happens when someone is killed due to another person operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
What Is DUI Manslaughter?
Under Florida statutes, DUI manslaughter can be a first- or second-degree felony:
- Second-degree felony: Second-degree DUI manslaughter happens when the defendant drives drunk and causes the death of another human or unborn child.
- First-degree felony: DUI manslaughter comes under this category if, at the time of the crash, the defendant knew, or should have known, that the accident had occurred and failed to report the incident and render aid to the victim.
Elements of DUI Manslaughter
Here’s a list of things the prosecuting side must prove when arguing that the defendant is guilty of DUI manslaughter:
- The accused person was controlling or operating the vehicle during the crash.
- While controlling or operating the vehicle, the defendant killed another individual, including an unborn child who could have lived outside the womb.
- The influence of drugs or alcohol impaired the alleged perpetrator’s ability to drive the vehicle safely, or their blood alcohol level was at or exceeded .08% – the legal limit.
How Is DUI Manslaughter Punished?
States may vary regarding punishments for DUI manslaughter.
In Florida, an individual convicted of DUI manslaughter will receive a mandatory minimum term of incarceration of 4 years.
Say you’ve been charged with DUI manslaughter. Below are some legal defenses you and your criminal defense attorney (if you have one) can use to prove your innocence or argue for a less harsh penalty:
- An argument against the accusation of negligence: Say you are driving down the street, and your brake suddenly stops working.
You cannot decelerate (slow down the speed) and have lost control of your vehicle. Attempting to avoid traffic, you hop a curb, accidentally hitting and killing a pedestrian.
Onlookers (lacking knowledge of the complete story) tell the police that you drove recklessly and got charged with manslaughter.
In that case, you can argue that while unpredictable tragedies happen, a person should not be blamed for it happening, resulting in their loss of freedom.
- Self-defense angle: Many states in the U.S. allow their residents to defend themselves and use violence to do so when necessary.
Suppose your act of self-defense led to the death of another. Your criminal defense lawyer can argue that your act was reasonably conducted and not disproportionate to the attack.
- Insufficient evidence: Reviewing the evidence is critical when facing a criminal charge. By digging into the minute details of the allegation, your attorney can raise doubts about the prosecution’s case.
The attorney-client relationship ensures the privacy of your discussion with your lawyer.
Suppose you cannot afford a private law firm to represent you. In that case, you can access state law offices offering legal advice and free consultation.
You know by now that manslaughter in the second degree generally involves an unintentional and unlawful killing of another individual. Here are similar offenses referring to the death of another person caused by someone else’s behavior.
- Homicide: This word is a broader term in the court system, describing the act of killing another. This category covers intentional killing (murder) and negligent homicide (manslaughter).
- Murder: This crime is a homicide charge involving the illegal killing of a person. Murder charges have two primary elements: malice and premeditation. Like manslaughter, “first-degree murder” is more severe than “second-degree murder.”
- Manslaughter Defined
- CJI2d[NY] PENAL LAW ARTICLE 125
- RCW 9A.32.060
- RCW 9A.32.070
- 609.205 Manslaughter in the Second Degree
- Aggravated Second Degree Manslaughter
- What are the charges against Derek Chauvin? Here’s what the jury is considering for the death of George Floyd.
- vehicular manslaughter
- What is the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?
- §2A1.3 Voluntary Manslaughter
- The 2022 Florida Statutes (including 2022 Special Session A and 2023 Special Session B)