‘Manslaughter’ refers to an unlawful killing of another person that involves no premeditation or malicious aforethought. Prosecutors who are pursuing murder charges against a defendant must prove a degree of intentionality and planning. These two features enhance the moral blame of the crime of murder, positioning it as a more serious crime when compared to manslaughter. Because manslaughter is seen as less heinous by the eyes of the law, the penalties are typically lighter. There are two primary variations of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary.
Often referred to as a ‘crime of passion’ or a ‘heat of passion’ crime, voluntary manslaughter is triggered by a provoking event. In order for an event to qualify, it must be found that the event would provoke a reasonable person to act on their emotions in the moment. The killer must not have had time to ‘cool down’ between the provoking event and the violent act for the crime to be considered manslaughter. This type of charge makes concessions for the nature of human emotion, downgrading the moral culpability of the defendant.
When a person’s criminally negligent or reckless behavior results in the death of one or more people, they may be charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter. In some cases where the recklessness of their actions are extreme, second degree murder charges may also be considered for the same act. Many instances of involuntary manslaughter involve motor vehicle crimes, including deaths that are caused by drunk driving or excessive speeding.
The Penalties of Manslaughter
Under federal sentencing guidelines, the crime of manslaughter is punishable by one to eight years in prison and/or monetary fines. The Texas penal code provides additional sentencing guidelines for crimes committed within the state. In Texas, the punishment for this offense includes two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. In most cases, individuals are mandated to continue with probation after being released from prison.
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