Manslaughter + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Manslaughter is a crime that deals with homicide. What sets it apart from murder is that the culpability of the defendant can be mitigated because no deliberation or malice was found. An unlawful killing took place, as with first and second degree murder, but the circumstances surrounding this killing go some way towards justifying the way the defendant behaved, at least in the eyes of the law. This means that, in a manslaughter case, it is already known that the defendant did kill the victim. The issue is more likely to revolved around elements such as whether or not the defendant behaved in a reasonable manner when the killing occurred.

Manslaughter Laws

Manslaughter is covered under 18 U.S. Code paragraph 1112 – manslaughter. This decrees that manslaughter involves unlawfully killing another human, but that there was no malice involved in this killing. Two types of manslaughter are defined:

  1. Voluntary manslaughter, which is a heat of passion killing, or one that followed a sudden quarrel.
  2. Involuntary manslaughter, in which someone committed an unlawful act that is not a felony, on in which they acted unlawfully without due circumspection or caution, which led to the death of another human.

Manslaughter Crimes & Charges

As explained above, two types of manslaughter exist, which are voluntary and involuntary. Under voluntary manslaughter, someone intentionally kills someone without having deliberated to do so, meaning there is no malice involved. This happens after significant provocation, or in the heat of passion. This is the defining characteristic that must be shown in order for someone to be convicted of voluntary manslaughter. A classic example is that of a wife returning home to find her husband in bed with another woman, killing him in an unexpected fit of anger.

Involuntary manslaughter is slightly different. This is where a killing is purely accidental, but where the circumstances of the accident mean that some punishment must be handed down. Most equated involuntary manslaughter to a form of ‘criminal negligence’. This means that the defendant acted in a reckless way, to the point of being criminally liable, even though he or she had no intention of killing anyone. A classic example of involuntary manslaughter is when someone drives under the influence, causes an accident, and somebody dies as a result.

Manslaughter Punishment

The punishment for manslaughter is set out in 18 U.S. Code Paragraph 1112 – Manslaughter as:

  • No more than 15 years in prison and/or a fine if found guilty of voluntary manslaughter
  • No more than eight years in prison and/or a fine if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter

However, those are the federal punishments that have been set down. Individual states have other laws, regulations, and statutes in place, which means the overall punishment can be very different.

Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines

Sentencing guidelines are set in individual jurisdictions in which the trial is taking place. However, the defense will generally be able to present the mitigating and aggravating factors, which will determine to a great extend how high the sentence will be. A judge should take all these factors into consideration before making a decision in terms of prison sentences and/or fines. There are significant differences in sentencing guidelines between states and compared to the federal regulations. The federal guidelines for voluntary manslaughter include a maximum of 15 years in prison. In the state of California, for instance, the prison sentence is three, six, or 11 years, which is much more specific.

The base sentence imposed on federal level for involuntary manslaughter is between ten and 16 months in prison. However, various aggravating factors exist. If the involuntary manslaughter was caused by reckless conduct, the sentence may be longer. Alternatively, a separate case and sentence may be started for this reckless conduct. This is common, for instance, in a death caused by someone who was driving under the influence. Indeed, involuntary manslaughter caused by some kind of driving accident almost always incurs higher sentences.

Overall, however, judges have a great deal of discretion when it comes to sentencing in these cases.

Manslaughter Statute of Limitations

Each state has different statutes of limitations for manslaughter, often depending on whether it was voluntary or involuntary. Some states, such as California, have specific types of manslaughter, like vehicular manslaughter, which also carries different statutes. On average, however, the statute of limitations is two years, although this can be tolled if the defendant is out of state or out of the country.

Manslaughter Cases

  • Michael Jackson, famous pop star, died from an overdose of painkillers in 2009. His person physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, was charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The decision was appealed but upheld at a second trial. Dr. Murray completed a two year sentence in jail for this. (Billboard)
  • In 1987, famous actor Matthew Broderick was on vacation in Ireland. He was driving with Jennifer Grey after a sudden downpour of rain. After a stop, he pulled back onto the road and it is believed he may have accidentally driven on the incorrect side of the road out of habit. He caused a head on collision with Anna Gallagher and her mother Margaret Doherty. Both were pronounced dead on arrival in hospital. Broderick was charged with manslaughter, but this was later diminished to negligent driving. (People)
  • In 1977. Jose Campos Torres was handcuffed and thrown in the bayou by two police officers. Different claims in terms of why this happened have been put forward, but Torres was found dead by drowning three days later. Although charged with murder, the two police officers were only convicted of voluntary manslaughter. The case sparked outrage and continues to do so today. (Revolution Newspaper)
  • In April 2015, a volunteer county sheriff’s officer killed an unarmed suspect when he grabbed his gun instead of his Taser. He has been found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and the jury had recommended that the maximum prison sentence, four years, be imposed. (NY Daily News)
  • In August 2013, John B. Geer stood inside his doorway, unarmed, when he was shot to death by Adam D. Torres, a former Fairfax County police officer. Torres pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter when he underwent a trial for murder. Washington Post

Quick Manslaughter Links & References

Manslaughter Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming