The unlawful killing of another person is always seen as a severe crime. Many people might think that illegally ending a person’s life is automatically murder.
However, the law differentiates murder from another criminal charge called manslaughter. The reason for this is to hand down sentences proportional to the crime committed.
In fact, manslaughter is less severe compared to murder, but both involve the killing of another individual.
So, what is manslaughter, and how is it not the same as murder? Does it involve the same substantial jail time? How can one protect oneself from getting wrongfully accused of this charge?
This article defines manslaughter, giving elements that differentiate it from murder. It also identifies the types of manslaughter, examples of each crime, and their corresponding penalties.
Additionally, this write-up explains the different degrees of murder and the defenses one can use when faced with such a legal predicament.
When confronted with a criminal case, it’s crucial to gather all pertinent documents that can help you build a defense. Having complete documents is especially critical when you have a criminal record that can aggravate your case.
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When Could You Be Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter?
You can be charged with involuntary manslaughter if you unintentionally killed someone, typically due to negligence, recklessness, or the result of the commission of a misdemeanor.
Although manslaughter involves the death of another person, it’s not the same as murder because of the lack of intent to kill and premeditation. Because it’s considered a less serious crime than murder, the punishment for manslaughter is also not as severe.
Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
Although manslaughter is not as severe as murder, it’s still considered a felony.
On the other hand, a misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment of under 12 months and is often carried out in county jails.
According to criminal law, manslaughter is divided into two categories: involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter. The next topic discusses the difference between the two types of manslaughter, their penalties, and their sentences.
What’s the Difference Between Involuntary and Voluntary Manslaughter Charges?
Involuntary and voluntary manslaughter have slight differences in definition between states. However, both crimes are considered less severe compared to murder.
Both crimes involve unlawfully ending a human life, but both lack the essence of premeditation to be counted as murder. However, despite the similarities, these crimes have different penalties and sentences.
Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of another person in the “heat of passion” or provocation. However, there’s a caveat or condition to consider the killing as the result of provocation.
According to criminal law, the provocation must be substantial enough to warrant the death of the provoking individual.
Say the provocation is insufficient to warrant the killing. In that case, the accused can be charged with second-degree murder, a higher criminal charge, instead of manslaughter.
Voluntary Manslaughter Charges and Penalties
The penalty for voluntary manslaughter may have subtle differences between states. Local legislation may affect the punishments handed down to people convicted of this criminal offense.
For instance, under California penal code 192, a voluntary manslaughter conviction can lead to 3, 6, or 11 years imprisonment.
On the other hand, Florida legislation states that voluntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony with prison time of up to 15 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
An Example of Voluntary Manslaughter
A classic example of voluntary manslaughter due to “heat of passion” is the jealous spouse unintentionally killing his wife after being caught having an affair with another person.
Another example is when a person unintentionally kills a human being because of unnecessary use of force out of self-defense,
In a nutshell, involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another individual due to negligence, recklessness, and the result of the commission of a lesser crime.
Sentencing involuntary manslaughter is not straightforward in America. The country’s legal system is divided into federal and state levels. Courts at these levels have different sentencing guidelines for crimes like involuntary manslaughter.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: Federal Level
The minimum involuntary manslaughter sentence in the federal level sentencing guidelines is a prison term of 10 to 16 months. The penalty increases in severity once the court proves that the defendant committed the criminal act with reckless conduct.
For involuntary manslaughter charges involving a vehicle, the minimum sentence is higher. However, judges can use a certain amount of discretion in dealing with these manslaughter cases.
Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing: State Level
State-level courts differ in how they deal with involuntary manslaughter. Because states have different legislation concerning criminal law, state courts use varying sentencing guidelines when handing down punishments.
Still, judges will consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances when determining the appropriate sentence for each case.
Aggravating factors may increase the severity of the crime committed. A defendant’s reckless behavior and criminal record are examples of these factors.
On the other hand, mitigating factors lessen the weight of the offender’s criminal liability. Examples of mitigating factors inlcude admittance of guilt or the defendant’s lack of criminal history.
Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
Here are some examples of individuals guilty of involuntary manslaughter:
- A person was texting while driving a motor vehicle, hitting and killing a pedestrian accidentally.
- Someone was improperly prescribing medication or practicing medicine without a license, causing the death of another.
The cases mentioned above can be categorized as involuntary manslaughter if it is proven in court that the defendant didn’t have any intention or deliberate desire to kill.
Murder and Manslaughter: Learning More About the Differences
Murder differs from manslaughter because of crucial factors like the intent to kill and premeditation.
Premeditation means purposefully planning to kill someone before actually doing it. Furthermore, the planning must be done in a “cool state of blood” or in an emotional condition not affected by passion or heated anger.
“Intent to kill” is the desire to kill another person. However, premeditation is what aggravates the crime. In fact, intentionally killing a person without premeditation will only result in a second-degree murder charge.
For instance, the criminal charge for a person who reached out to pick up a hammer and hit someone amid intense provocation like a quarrel can be second-degree murder or, with other mitigating factors, voluntary manslaughter.
However, a person who planned to kill someone with a hammer and, with deliberation, used it to bludgeon someone to death can be found guilty of first-degree murder.
Attempted murder is the unsuccessful act of killing an individual. Attempted murder is a severe criminal offense with significant penalties, including considerable prison time.
Essentially, this homicide charge is a failed murder attempt, as all the prerequisites of a murder charge are present aside from actually killing the victim.
The elements that need to be present for an attempted murder conviction are intention and proof that the defendant took the necessary action or “direct step” to accomplish their murderous unlawful act.
Murder in the First Degree
A first-degree murder charge is the intentional and illegal killing of another human being by someone who carried out these planned actions deliberately and willfully.
A willful act is an act done voluntarily, consciously, and intentionally to achieve a desired result. On the other hand, a deliberate action is something planned and premeditated.
Murder in the Second Degree
Second-degree murder is when the defendant, with malicious intent, kills someone without planning to do so. The defendant intends to kill and inflict severe bodily harm but has not made any deliberate attempt to plan the death of another individual.
Second-degree murder is different from voluntary manslaughter. Although neither felony is premeditated, defendants charged with second-degree murder knew their actions could kill the victim.
Voluntary manslaughter involves the defendant killing another person due to provocation or extreme emotional instability, like a jealous rage.
Murder in the Third Degree
Currently, only three states have third-degree murder charges in their state criminal law. Each of the three states has its distinct definition of third-degree murder.
- Florida: Third-degree murder is the death of another person unintentionally caused while committing a nonviolent felony.
- Minnesota: The state’s law defines third-degree murder as the unintentional killing of another person by someone engaged in a dangerous act without regard for human life and safety.
Death of another person due to the defendant’s selling, distributing, and administering illegal drugs is also considered third-degree murder.
- Pennsylvania: Any murder of another person or homicide that fails to meet the requirements of first- and second-degree murder is considered murder in the third degree.
Murder Committed Willfully
Willful murder is the intentional killing of another person without any reason or excuse. This type of murder is severe and is often punished with the death penalty or a considerably long prison sentence for states without capital punishment.
Here’s an example of willful murder: James and Albert are partners in a lucrative business. However, Albert wants to take over the company, so he kills his partner. The defendant doesn’t have any objective justification for the murder, and so it’s classified as willful murder.
Murder Without Provocation
Unprovoked murder or assault is the infliction of grave bodily harm to a person, resulting in the death of the victim or the victim sustaining severe injuries without any provocation or justification.
Reckless homicide is the reckless killing of another person. In some states, reckless homicide is similar to involuntary manslaughter with a motor vehicle.
When the law says “reckless,” it generally means doing a risky act that goes against the standard of care ordinary people exercise. The defendant consciously does the reckless action, even knowing that such risk may result in harming or even killing other people.
Sudden Quarrel or Heat of Passion
Crimes of passion are crimes done in the heat of passion or as a response to provocation. Crimes of passion aren’t premeditated or deliberate and can serve as a partial defense against murder charges.
Another term used is “sudden quarrel,” a legally recognized source of provocation that may cause a reasonable individual to lose self-control and resort to acts that may lead to unintended results.
However, “heat of passion” or intense provocation doesn’t excuse the defendant from killing. It can lessen the degree of the crime and its punishment but not justify it.
In some cases, a successful defense against a murder charge using the justification “heat of passion” can reduce the murder charge to manslaughter.
When a person commits second-degree murder due to reckless behavior but was coerced or forced to do so by another person applying significant threats, the courts can reduce the charge to manslaughter.
A defendant is liable for helping a person commit suicide if they provided the physical means used by a suicidal person to take their own life.
In medical situations, assisted suicide and euthanasia come to mind. Though both are acts of helping people kill themselves, they are technically different.
Euthanasia happens when a doctor or health practitioner fulfills the desire of a terminally ill person to die. Usually, the person administering euthanasia injects a lethal drug that causes the patient’s death.
On the other hand, assisted suicide happens when the doctor gives a terminally ill patient a lethal drug, which the patient must take by themselves to die.
Physician-assisted suicide is legal in 10 American states, but euthanasia is still illegal nationwide.
A person who kills an unborn child by causing physical injuries to the mother despite full knowledge of her pregnancy can result in severe penalties.
States are divided in the treatment of the “unborn child.” Some states don’t treat the assault on a pregnant mother differently from that of her unborn child.
However, federal law treats this situation as two different criminal offenses. Through the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2001,” the penalty imposed on the defendant is similar to the punishment given to criminals charged with attempted killing or killing a human being.
Vehicular Manslaughter: Another Serious Manslaughter Charge
A person operating a motor vehicle unlawfully or negligently, resulting in the death of another person, can be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
In some states like Arizona, vehicular manslaughter is a criminally negligent homicide involving reckless driving behavior.
This type of manslaughter is more straightforward to prove than other manslaughter types because it requires less culpable “mens rea” or criminal intent.
An example of vehicular manslaughter is reckless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), resulting in the death of another person.
Differentiating Between Accidental and Intentional Killings
Without criminal intent and premeditation, one can’t be charged with murder. The defendant may be charged with offenses for accidental and unintentional killings but not murder.
Because of this, prosecutors try to find proof of criminal intent and premeditation to convict people who have caused the death of a person and grief to the distraught families of the deceased.
Self-Defense and Criminal Negligence
Citing self-defense is one way to reduce a murder charge to a lesser degree, like manslaughter. Criminal law calls self-defense a mitigating factor the court can consider when handing down sentences.
Self-defense is using force or violence to protect oneself from harm inflicted by an assaulter. Any retaliatory violence can only be considered self-defense if:
- The victim didn’t provoke the attack.
- The perpetrator used unreasonable and deadly force.
- The victim has a reasonable belief or fear that the perpetrator will use force against them.
- There is imminent danger.
If self-defense is a mitigating factor, aggravating circumstances can increase the likelihood of conviction of a more severe criminal charge. An example of an aggravating factor is criminal negligence.
Criminal negligence happens when a person ignores the obvious and known risks or disregards the safety of others, placing their life at risk of injury or death. Federal and state courts consider criminal negligence as a form of recklessness.
A severe form of negligence is called gross negligence, which is a wanton and intentional disregard for the safety and lives of other people.
How to Get Your Murder Charges Reduced
In the unfortunate event that you get entangled with a legal issue like facing a murder charge, there are some defenses you can take to have your charges reduced.
Primarily, when facing this kind of problem, you must seek legal advice from competent criminal defense lawyers and the support of your loved ones.
Here are defense strategies to fight a murder charge:
- Self-defense: You must prove without reasonable doubt that you or your loved one faced grave and imminent danger, which was the cause of your actions.
- Mistaken identity: There is a real danger of innocent people getting wrongly identified by witnesses because of the confusion and stress of being involved in a crime scene.
- Insanity: Mental instability and other mental health issues can be a defense against a murder charge. When a person is dealing with mental problems or insanity, they can’t be held liable for their actions.
- Unavoidable accident: You must prove that you don’t have any criminal intent and culpable negligence. Among the requisites of murder are intent to kill and premeditation. Without these two factors, a murder charge is not viable.
Criminal defense attorneys have different ways to defend against a manslaughter charge. Here are some of the defenses people can use against a manslaughter case.
Through the help of a lawyer, you should provide proof that you have no intent of doing any harm. Without intention or premeditation, one can’t get convicted of murder.
However, in states like California, you can further prove that what happened is not murder but an accident if:
- You don’t intend to harm the person.
- You’re not engaged in an unlawful act.
- You’re not acting negligently or engaging in any dangerous act without proper caution.
Self-Defense or Defense of Others
Citing self-defense, if proven true, can counter a murder or manslaughter charge.
For instance, in California, it’s not illegal to kill someone who is trying to murder, rob or rape you.
If you prove your actions are justifiable, the court can’t charge you with voluntary manslaughter.
States may differ in treating insanity as a defense against a murder or manslaughter charge.
A defendant can plead insanity in a criminal trial and admit the action but cites mental illness to assert a lack of culpability or guilt.
Poor Quality of the Evidence and Investigation
Another defense is to attack the credibility of the evidence used to build the prosecution’s case.
A good lawyer can confront the validity of the evidence-gathering process, point out any improper investigation procedures by police officers and anyone in law enforcement, and the reliability of witnesses to the crime.
Someone Else or Something Else Caused the Death
There are instances where certain mental conditions can affect the course of the trial. For example, one shoots and kills someone in the heat of passion or provocation.
A lawyer can use this unique circumstance to lessen the sentence by establishing that the defendant didn’t plan or intend to kill a person. However, the defendant resorted to violence due to the intense provocation.
Your Actions Were Not Reckless
For cases involving supposed reckless behavior, you should establish proof that you’re not reckless.
Also, the defense can focus on proving that the prosecution should have charged you with a less serious crime, such as negligence. In this case, you, the defendant, can be tried for negligent homicide, not manslaughter.
What’s the Longest Sentence for Manslaughter?
States vary in sentence lengths for manslaughter. However, one of the longest manslaughter mandatory sentences is in Connecticut.
A person convicted of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm in Connecticut can technically get 40 years maximum.
Which Is Worse, 1st or 2nd Degree Manslaughter?
Out of the two types of manslaughter, first-degree manslaughter is worse. It’s a higher level of this crime where a person unintentionally kills another person because of provocation but without premeditation. On the other hand, second-degree manslaughter is also the crime of unintentionally killing someone due to reckless behavior.
Whenever you’re confronted with severe legal problems like getting accused of murder or manslaughter, it’s best to turn to the expertise of a criminal defense lawyer to help you out.
You can choose firms that can help you by contacting them. Some firms have free consultations or free case evaluations, which can help you see if that particular law firm suits your needs.
Remember that you must have a healthy attorney-client relationship in a legal dispute to create a workable defense strategy. These legal experts can help you gather the evidence you need to overturn or lower the possible penalty you might get.
You can also help your attorney by gathering pertinent documents about your case, especially if you already have a criminal record in your file. You can visit LookUpInmate.org to collect your arrest and court records from any jail or prison facility in the country.
Remember that manslaughter or murder are severe legal cases that involve not only a tenacious prosecution but also families full of emotions that may be vehemently against you. It’s best to keep calm and work closely with your defense team, cooperating with them to help you through this legal ordeal.
- Involuntary Manslaughter Under the Law
- Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
- Voluntary Manslaughter Under the Law
- Premeditated murder
- Second-degree murder
- First-degree murder
- Crime of passion
- H. Rept. 107-42 – UNBORN VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE ACT OF 2001
- Vehicular homicide