Manslaughter is unlawful killing that does not involve the intent to kill or harm, or reckless disregard for another person’s life. Manslaughter does not involve malice aforethought and; therefore, requires less moral blame when compared to first or second degree murder. Here is a brief look at some of the basic elements of manslaughter.
Types of Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter involves the intentional and unlawful killing of another person without deliberation or malice but following a sudden wave of passion arising from provocation. The key characteristic of voluntary manslaughter is that the killing be executed after a sudden wave of passion.
A typical example is where a defendant arrives home and finds their spouse in bed with someone else whom the defendant kills in a spell of anger arising from the unexpected revelation of their spouse’s fidelity.
Bearing in mind this example, the determination of whether the defendant is guilty of manslaughter or murder depends on the series of events that occurred after the defendant found their spouse in bed with another person. If the defendant is able to prove that there was little or no cooling off period prior to the killing, the defendant will be charged with voluntary manslaughter. However, if it can be proven that the defendant took some time to think about the situation before reacting, their conduct will most likely be classified as murder. Generally, every moment that lapses between the provoking incident and the killing makes the defendant more likely to be convicted of murder.
Voluntary manslaughter is also determined based on the level of provocation that caused the defendant to kill. A provoking incident is one that creates a sudden wave of passion in an average person faced with the defendant’s situation. Therefore, situations in which a person overreacts in an unreasonable manner do not qualify as voluntary manslaughter.
The other type of manslaughter is involuntary manslaughter. This crime arises when the defendant kills a person by accident. Involuntary manslaughter is often referred to as criminal negligence. This means that the defendant acted recklessly to the point that the law imposes punishment. A drunken driving accident that results in a person’s death is a good example of involuntary manslaughter.
Penalties for Manslaughter
The laws against voluntary manslaughter normally cite specific sentences but it is likely they will list a number of penalties for the crime. These laws leave judges with the discretion of determining the exact punishment.
For example, the federal law regarding voluntary manslaughter requires defendants to receive fines, a jail sentence that does not exceed ten years, or both. On the other hand, California’s law on voluntary manslaughter states that a person who is guilty of manslaughter should receive a jail sentence of 3, 6, or 11 years.
According to the federal sentencing guidelines, the sentence for involuntary manslaughter is between 10-16 months. The sentence increases if the crime is committed through reckless conduct.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
Before settling on an exact sentence, courts usually look at the circumstances surrounding a particular crime. These circumstances are classified into two: mitigating factors and aggravating factors.
Mitigating factors reduce sentences. These factors show that a defendant poses less risk to society and; therefore, does not deserve a lengthy sentence. Examples of mitigating factors include the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility for a crime, and the lack of a criminal background.
Aggravating factors lead to tough sentences. Courts consider aggravating factors like the defendant’s criminal history, the brutality of the crime, and the vulnerability of the victim.
Defenses for Manslaughter
The best defense against manslaughter is actual innocence. The prosecution should prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. The defendant can either raise doubt towards the prosecution’s evidence or claim an alibi that shows their innocence.
Some jurisdictions support acquittal for manslaughter if defendants can prove they were protecting themselves or another individual from serious harm or imminent death. For example, in California, the self-defense statutes require those who raise this defense to prove they were acting reasonably under the circumstances and never used unnecessary force.
If a defendant charged of voluntary manslaughter can prove the homicide happened by accident, their charges can be reduced to those of an involuntary manslaughter charge. In cases of involuntary manslaughter, this defense can be used to challenge the claim of recklessness or negligence.
How A Lawyer Can Help In Cases of Manslaughter
It is advisable to fight manslaughter charges with a lawyer by your side. Not only will your lawyer give you a good chance of fighting the charges against you, they will also ensure you get justice.
The first thing your lawyer will do is discredit the prosecution’s evidence. The main duty of your lawyer will be to poke holes in the prosecution’s arguments and show reasonable doubt in their claims.
The second role of your lawyer is to present a strong defense. Your lawyer will determine the best defense for the manslaughter charges and gather evidence to support this defense.
Last but not least, if the court finds you guilty of manslaughter, your lawyer can help minimize the charges against you by drawing the court’s attention to mitigating factors.