Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges are both governed by Massachusetts General laws Chapter 265 Section 13. You can be charged with manslaughter if your action led to the death of another human being. This is a very different charge from murder, which applies when the case involves malice aforethought or premeditation. While manslaughter is a type of murder, it is viewed differently under the Massachusetts statutes.
The two types of manslaughter are both felonies but they carry different penalties:
- Involuntary manslaughter: The death of the person occurred but you had no intention to kill. Typically, the death occurred while you were committing another crime, such as drunk driving, robbery or burglary.
- Voluntary manslaughter: The death of the person is done because of a ‘reasonable provocation’ as defined under state law. Typically, the death occurred when you were under stress or duress, such as the heat of an argument. It also can be a killing that happens during mutual fighting or combat. This is different from murder in that your actions were disturbed by emotional excitement to a point where another person might also have acted upon impulse.
Massachusetts Laws and Penalties
As noted earlier, there is a major difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary means the illegal killing was done on purpose. To be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the following:
- You injured the victim in a way that was likely to lead to their death.
- The injury did cause the death of the victim.
- The prosecutor must prove that you acted in an illegal way in committing the killing. It means that there was no legal justification for the killing, such as self defense.
Involuntary manslaughter means the illegal killing was done unintentionally. To convict you of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the following:
- You killed the victim illegally but unintentionally. The unintentionally part of this element means the prosecutor must prove that you intended to commit the act but the prosecutor does not need to prove that you intended to cause death.
- The prosecutor must prove that your conduct was reckless or wanton, such as in a drunk driving crash that leads to death. The prosecutor needs to show that a reasonable person would have known that harm could result and would not have done the same thing.
- The death of the victim must be because of your reckless or wanton conduct.
In Massachusetts, both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are felonies and only may be prosecuted in superior court. A conviction for voluntary manslaughter in Massachusetts can result in at least three years in prison and up to 20 years. You may have to pay victim restitution as well. If you are convicted for involuntary manslaughter, you may get a sentence of 10 to 16 months in prison. But this can be enhanced if the incident was because of recklessness.
You also can be charged with manslaughter while operating a motor vehicle if you kill someone while driving drunk. In this case, you can receive 20 years in state prison. $25,000 fine and a 15 year loss of your driver’s license.
Also, as part of Melanie’s Law passed in 2005, the state legislature passed Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 265 Section 131/2. It states that anyone who is convicted of manslaughter while drunk or under the influence of drugs must serve at least five years in prison. There is a provision of the law that states you may in some cases be able to be employed in a work release program.
Massachusetts Manslaughter Defenses
Common defenses for manslaughter include the following:
- Innocence: Of course, not having committed the crime is the best defense. Prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty of the crime. You may present an alibi that proves you were not the one who committed the act that led to the death.
- Self defense: This can be either perfect or imperfect. Perfect means there was a reasonable need for deadly force to protect your life and involved no wrongdoing on your part. Imperfect means there was an unreasonable belief for deadly force and some degree of bad behavior on your part led to the death.
- Accidental: If you can prove the death was because of an accident, it is possible to get the charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter results from an act of negligence or recklessness. You may have acted in a careless manner but you lacked the intent to kill or cause great harm.
- Intoxication: It is difficult to get a reduced charge in a manslaughter case because of intoxication, but some defenses may be mounted with this defense.
- Insanity: If you met the legal definition for insanity at the time of the offense, you may not be held accountable for your actions.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations
According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 277 Section 63, the statute of limitations for manslaughter is six years.
Massachusetts Manslaughter Cases
- Worcester MA Man Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter for Shooting Neighbor — Jacinto Maldonado was sentenced this month to 10 to 12 years in Massachusetts state prison for the 2016 shooting death of his neighbor. He was given credit for 618 days he already spent in custody as he waited for the case to be resolved.
- Revere MA Cop Killing Suspect Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter — A man whose 2nd degree murder conviction for killing an off-duty police officer was vacated last month by the state appeals court. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will be able to avoid a new trial. Robert Iacoviello, 30, was first convicted in 2010 for shooting the police officer in September 2007.
- Man Found Guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter In Death of Man in 2004 — A jury in Worcester MA found a Leominster man guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of Frederick Martinez in Fitchburg in 2004. The man, Robin Calzado, was found guilty of first degree murder in 2004 but he fled to the Dominican Republic where he remained until he was extradited to Massachusetts in 2016.