What is a Manslaughter Charge?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 January 2020
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In criminal law, a manslaughter charge is an allegation, usually brought by a prosecutor’s office, that a defendant has unjustifiably killed another human being. Manslaughter is a separate and distinct crime from murder. Typically, a killing that amounts to a manslaughter offense is missing several key elements of a murder charge: deliberation, premeditation, and malice. A manslaughter charge is a less serious accusation than a murder charge, and it usually results in a lighter prison sentence for a convicted defendant.

Many jurisdictions distinguish between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, depending on whether or not the defendant intended to kill or cause the victim bodily harm at the time that the killing took place. Generally, voluntary manslaughter occurs when a defendant has intentionally killed another person but certain mitigating factors are present. For instance, it may happen if a defendant has been provoked into an uncontrollable rage or anger and subsequently kills another person in the heat of passion. To illustrate, if a defendant catches his spouse in bed with another man and kills that man on the spot, the jury may find that, even though the killing was intentional, it was done in the heat of passion. This could result in the defendant being convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.


On the other hand, an involuntary manslaughter charge is frequently brought when a defendant has killed another person unintentionally. It may occur when the defendant has engaged in criminally negligent behavior. Essentially, this means that the defendant acted in an unreasonable and highly risky manner and killed another person as a result. For instance, someone who accidentally discharges a loaded gun in a room full of people, resulting in another person’s death, may be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

In some jurisdictions, an involuntary manslaughter charge can also arise if a defendant commits an unlawful act that results in another person’s death. In general, this situation occurs when a defendant is committing, or attempting to commit, a misdemeanor offense. If a defendant throws a rock off of a bridge and the rock hits and kills someone, for instance, the defendant may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

A defendant who has been convicted of a manslaughter charge is usually incarcerated. The length of his or her prison sentence is typically dictated by statutory sentencing guidelines. Someone who has been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter will usually serve a longer sentence than someone convicted of involuntary manslaughter.


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Post 3

@indigomoth - Honestly, I think it just depends on the laws though. I mean, in one place it might be considered manslaughter, or vehicular homicide, in another it might be just be considered an accident.

It probably depends on how good your lawyer is as well, which really makes me angry. I know there have been several cases of rich people killing someone on a DUI or something, and getting off with a slap on the hand. I don't see how we can call the justice system fair, when money can make all the difference in a case.

Post 2

@croydon - I think when the person who was killed died because of bad luck, it's not considered to be manslaughter. For example, if a car goes out of control because a squirrel somehow managed to get into the engine, that wouldn't be considered the fault of the driver, even if someone did die.

If, however, the car went out of control because the driver didn't bother to change the tires and they wore down until they were dangerous, I do think that should be considered manslaughter, because that's not bad luck, that's bad judgment and it needs to be addressed. In that kind of case manslaughter law should take circumstances into account though.

Post 1

I guess it would count as manslaughter if someone killed a person because they got in the way of a greater goal. If, for example, someone was committing a crime and realized that someone had seen them do it and could identify them, and the criminal killed that witness immediately to prevent their speaking out, that might be manslaughter. It wouldn't be, if the person had a lot of time to think about the murder or plan it, instead of getting caught up in the moment though.

I think that's how it works, but I suppose the definition is always going to be a bit nebulous, since the whole point of a trial is to figure out whether someone did

something and what their actions should be defined as being.

I do think it's probably much more difficult with manslaughter deciding a punishment that fits the crime, since in some cases manslaughter seems like a once in a lifetime mistake borne from bad luck more than bad intentions.

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