What is Manslaughter?
There are many categories of crimes that involve injury to another person. In some cases, a death resulting from a crime might not be intentional, but a defendant could still be charged with something like first-degree murder or manslaughter.
Manslaughter charges can even arise as the result of a car accident, and the following are some things to know.
An Overview of Manslaughter
Manslaughter is an illegal killing that doesn't require malicious thought beforehand. Essentially, one of the differentiators between a charge of manslaughter and murder is that manslaughter doesn't involve an intent to hurt or kill someone, and it doesn't include a "reckless disregard for life." The intent is key.
There's less moral blame in the concept of manslaughter than there is in first or second-degree murder in the eyes of the law.
It is still considered a serious crime, but the punishments tend to be less severe than they are for murder.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter
Within the larger category of manslaughter, there are two separate distinctions.
There's voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
You'll often hear voluntary manslaughter described as a crime of passion or heat of passion crime.
These situations might include when someone is provoked, and they kill someone as a result of their emotional arousal and response to that provocation.
For a manslaughter charge to meet the voluntary standard, a person committing the crime must not have had enough time to cool off from whatever the provoking situation was.
While someone who committed voluntary manslaughter might have intentionally killed someone, there's an idea that the emotions at the time were a mitigating factor.
One example that's frequently used is if a spouse came home to find their partner committing adultery and then killed someone involved in that situation.
Involuntary manslaughter typically stems from a situation where the person committing the crime was negligent or reckless.
For example, if you're driving and you run over a person and kill them, there can be very divergent scenarios that then occur. You might only have to pay damages if you were negligent. If you were reckless, for example because you were driving under the influence of alcohol, then you could be convicted of involuntary manslaughter. You could also be convicted of second-degree murder if you show extreme disregard for human life.
For example, someone who hits and kills a person while drinking and driving who also has previous DUI charges could potentially be charged with second-degree murder.
More About Vehicular Manslaughter
In some states, vehicular manslaughter is a separate charge from involuntary manslaughter.
Vehicular manslaughter is the result of a driver who unintentionally causes an accident that leads to the death of their passengers, people in other vehicles, or pedestrians.
If someone was driving recklessly, these charges are possible. Along with the example of drinking and driving, if you were speeding excessively and ultimately killed someone, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
In states with vehicular manslaughter charges, the penalties for a conviction are usually less than those for a conviction of involuntary manslaughter.
Even beyond the distinction of vehicular manslaughter, it can further be broken down into different categories like negligent driving vs. criminal negligence.
Your charges could be more severe if you were not only drinking and driving but also speeding at the same time and driving on the wrong side of the road.
What Are the Punishments for Manslaughter?
The punishments for a manslaughter conviction vary depending on the state and specifics of the case.
For example, voluntary manslaughter could mean a jail sentence of anywhere from one to 20 years. Involuntary manslaughter usually has a maximum penalty, which in some states is 10 years.
In some cases, involuntary manslaughter is a misdemeanor, which means someone convicted might spend less than a year in prison, again, depending on the circumstances.
In some states, including California, vehicular manslaughter can be a misdemeanor or a felony. A misdemeanor charge means maybe just a few days in jail and minimal fines, along with a suspension of your license. If your charge is prosecuted as a felony, there are much stiffer possible penalties, such as several years in jail and thousands in fines.
There is a lot of variance in manslaughter charges, but regardless it's a serious crime requiring legal counsel. It's something that can happen accidentally, which is the scary part for some people.
If you or a loved one is facing these types of charges, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney sooner rather than later.