What are the Different Types of Manslaughter Laws?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A person charged with manslaughter is accused of being unintentionally responsible for the unlawful death of another person. A separate crime from murder, manslaughter charges depend on the concept that the accused person did not mean to kill but brought about the death through illegal or irresponsible behavior. There are many different types of manslaughter laws that may alter depending on the jurisdiction of the region.

Drinking and driving can lead to reckless driving and can result in manslaughter.
Drinking and driving can lead to reckless driving and can result in manslaughter.

Many legal systems make a basic distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter generally suggests that the defendant meant to cause harm but not kill, or kill but only under extraordinary circumstances. Involuntary manslaughter means that there was no intent to cause harm or kill, but the death was caused by negligent or criminal behavior of the defendant. Voluntary manslaughter is generally considered a more serious crime and may carry penalties similar to that of murder.

Vehicular manslaughter involves the neglectful action of a driver that results in the death of another.
Vehicular manslaughter involves the neglectful action of a driver that results in the death of another.

Additional classification in manslaughter laws may be the result of specific forms of violations. For instance, vehicular manslaughter is codified in some regions. This form of charge is brought when a death is caused through reckless driving or disregard for safety laws. Some regions also have special laws for vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, which may bring higher penalties.

Homicide is usually defined by the presence of an intent to kill.
Homicide is usually defined by the presence of an intent to kill.

Manslaughter laws depend a great deal on a clear understanding of intention. Homicide is usually defined by the presence of an intent to kill, known as malice or malice aforethought. In certain cases, however, manslaughter charges can be brought about if the defendant is believed to have malice aforethought due to extreme circumstances. Provocation, such as a physical attack on the defendant or a close family member, is often a consideration when determining whether a death should be charged as a homicide or manslaughter.

Manslaughter laws often carry exceptions or reductions when self defense is a mitigating factor. If an abused spouse intentionally killed his or her abuser out of an honest but unreasonable belief that his or her own life is in danger, this may be known as imperfect self-defense and is generally charged as involuntary manslaughter. If the court determines the defendant was acting reasonably to a serious threat of imminent death, the defendant may be acquitted entirely.

Though usually considered less serious than homicide charges, manslaughter charges can result in lengthy jail sentences if successfully proven. If charged with manslaughter, it is important to get an attorney who understands the ins-and-outs of regional manslaughter laws. When so much depends on the intent and the exact circumstances surrounding a death, it is perfectly easy to draw the wrong conclusions and miss important pieces of evidence. A good attorney can help make sure that the case is fully investigated and clear so as to allow the judge or jury to make a fair decision.

Some regions have special laws for vehicular manslaughter for operators who were under the influence of drugs.
Some regions have special laws for vehicular manslaughter for operators who were under the influence of drugs.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

SunSeal

@ Porcupie

I'm currently in law school. A person is only charged with vehicular manslaughter when they take the life of another person with a vehicle, through actions that are reckless or careless. This can also include driving while intoxicated or driving in any illegal manner. Each state has specific rules and regulations outlining what constitutes reckless driving. My educated guess concerning your friend, is that the driver was a young offender and was most likely put on probation with a sentence to be carried out at a later date if probation was broken in any way.

BronzeEagle

@ Porcupie

I think it depends on the circumstances surrounding the accident. The article said that vehicular manslaughter is when someone doesn't pay attention to traffic laws or is intoxicated in some way. If the accident was caused by a medical condition or vehicle malfunction, it may have been dropped to involuntary manslaughter and the person only got probation.

Porcupie

My friend was killed by another driver in high school and the driver was charged with vehicular manslaughter, but he didn't even serve time. What if some kills another person in an auto accident? Would that ever be considered voluntary or does it depend on the circumstances?

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