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Manslaughter Definition

Manslaughter is when an unlawful killing occurs that does not involve malice aforethought. Malice aforethought is the intent to kill with a reckless or extreme disregard for life. When malice aforethought is not present, then the charge is usually dropped to a manslaughter charge. Manslaughter generally has a less severe punishment than murder.

What Is the Difference Between Voluntary & Involuntary Manslaughter?

There are two kinds of manslaughter including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is often described as a “heat of passion” crime or offense. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person:

  • Is strongly provoked by circumstances that would affect a reasonable person.
  • As a result of being provoked, kills in the heat of passion.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is when an unintentional homicide occurs from criminally negligent or overall reckless behavior. Involuntary manslaughter can refer to an unintentional killing through committing a crime other than a felony. Involuntary manslaughter can sometimes be confused with second-degree murder because of the “accidental” nature of the killing through extreme recklessness. The specific facts of the case are going to dictate which charge the court will apply.

What Is the Difference Between Manslaughter & Murder?

Manslaughter and murder are often confused in that they both involve taking the life of another. Where manslaughter and murder greatly differ is the level of intent applied in taking a life. Manslaughter does not have malice aforethought, which is a blatant disregard for life. Manslaughter can involve premeditation in a voluntary manslaughter charge; however, it can also include the accidental death of someone through reckless behavior. When trying to distinguish the difference between manslaughter and murder, look to the level of intent to clarify which offense has been committed.

What is the Punishment for Manslaughter?

Manslaughter convictions are decided by the specific facts of the case and where the crime takes place. Each state has its own criminal statutes that are adapted from the Model Penal Code. Usually, a punishment for a manslaughter charge is going to involve jail time. For voluntary manslaughter, the punishment will vary from severe fines to up to ten years in prison. Involuntary manslaughter usually has a jail sentence of ten to sixteen months along with fines.

Are There Any Defenses to Manslaughter Charges?

Depending on the facts surrounding a manslaughter charge, there are several potential defenses available:

Self Defense

Self-defense can be an effective defense to a manslaughter charge only if the defendant can prove they had reasonable cause to believe deadly force was required to protect themselves. The defendant has the burden of proving this in court.


If it can be shown that the defendant was insane at the time the manslaughter occurred, they may have a successful defense. Each jurisdiction has its own rules on what constitutes an insanity defense, and it is important to understand which rules applied to the state where the crime was committed.

Accidental Killing

Accidental killing is important to understand because it can be a defense to reduce a charge from voluntary manslaughter to involuntary manslaughter. The defendant will have the burden of proof that the manslaughter offense committed was an accident.


Intoxication will not exonerate a defendant in a manslaughter charge. However, if the defendant was intoxicated against their will, they may be able to prove that intoxication caused them to commit manslaughter.

Manslaughter is not a charge to take lightly. Manslaughter can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the state’s statutes and the other offenses involved in the specific facts of the defendant’s case. It is highly recommended for defendants being charged with manslaughter to find an attorney to represent their case. Due to the many complexities that are involved with manslaughter charges, a slight discrepancy can change the potential jail time substantially. By having an attorney, it will be possible to get the best outcome for the defendant’s case.

Manslaughter Glossary Definition

Manslaughter occurs when an unlawful killing takes place that does not have the level of intent required to be a murder charge. The absence of an intention to seriously harm or kill with an extreme disregard for live, lowers a murder charge to manslaughter. There are two types of manslaughter, which are: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.