What is Second Degree Manslaughter?

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  • Written By: Vanessa Harvey
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Second degree manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without implied or expressed malice, which is ill will toward someone. A charge of second degree manslaughter also indicates that the defendant had no intention of taking the life of the victim and that he or she took reasonable and ordinary action to prevent the victim's death. The terms negligent homicide and murder are seldom used to refer to the ending of someone's life that was the result of a defendant's illegal activity if the action was not a felony. Sometimes the victim's death is caused by the improper or negligent carrying out of an act that is legal or the taking of a usually lawful action in an illegal way.

Another important consideration when determining a charge of second degree murder is whether the defendant understood that his or her actions could lead to someone's death. The main difference between second degree manslaughter and second degree murder is that in the latter, there was malice in the killer. Some people see the distinctions between the degrees of manslaughter and murder as subjective. For example, manslaughter in the first degree indicates no malice but a positive intention to kill. Some people reason that a definite intention to kill or one to inflict violence that normally results in great bodily harm or death is itself the reflection of malice and calls for a charge of second degree murder.


There are some people who believe that the harboring of malice is intricately linked to a person's intentions. If there was intent to kill or to carry out an act of violence known to cause grave injuries that usually end someone's life, the reality is that the intention could have been fueled by malice. There actually are a wide variety of situations in which a person dies as a consequence of someone else's improper performance of legal activity or proper performance of an illegal activity.

A scenario that could involve a charge of second degree manslaughter is the accidental killing of someone by a hunter during hunting season. Most states in the United States allow certain animals to be hunted during designated seasons, but hunters must follow the regional laws governing the use of firearms. There's a prohibition in some areas against shooting a gun within 500 feet (0.15 km) of a residence. If a hunter ignores or misjudges distance and fires a gun that kills someone, he or she could be convicted of second degree manslaughter, which is a felony crime.


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Post 3

My uncle accidentally killed someone while he was hunting (legally). The bullet bounced and hit this man, my uncle had no idea there was someone there. He is charged with second degree manslaughter now, we have no idea how many years he's going to get.

Post 2

@fBoyle-- Premeditated is usually the term that's used. It means that there was deliberation and planning before the manslaughter took place. I'm not a law expert, so I can't explain in detail how premeditation is proven, but this is what differentiates first and second degree manslaughter.

Usually, if a lawyer is trying to prove that there is no premeditation, then he or she will argue that it was a crime committed as a result of provocation. The idea is to show that this individual would not have committed the manslaughter if the circumstances hadn't played out the way they did.

If the court can't prove premeditation, the decision will have to be a second degree manslaughter sentence.

Post 1

So if someone doesn't plan to kill another, but ends up killing him or her, it's second degree murder or manslaughter? But how does the court know if there was a plan or not? Can't the defendant lie about it?

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