manslaughter | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law

Manslaughter is a crime where someone unlawfully causes another’s death but without planning or intending to kill, which separates it from murder.

To better understand manslaughter, we need to dive into what it truly means. It’s a term you might have heard on TV shows or in movies. But there’s a lot more to it than you might think. Manslaughter is not as simple as one person causing another’s death. There are different types, conditions, and penalties, which we will explore.

Manslaughter in Common Law

The concept of manslaughter comes from a system of law called “common law.” According to Blackstone, a famous legal scholar, manslaughter at common law is the unlawful killing of another without malice. It means a person causes someone’s death but did not plan or intend to kill.

There are two types of manslaughter under common law: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter happens in the heat of the moment. The person is provoked and reacts strongly, leading to someone’s death. Involuntary manslaughter is different. It happens when someone behaves recklessly or negligently, and their actions cause someone’s death, even though they didn’t mean to kill.

Manslaughter Under the Model Penal Code

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is another approach to defining manslaughter. This is a modern system designed to help make laws more uniform across different areas.

Under the MPC, it also splits into two types: voluntary and involuntary. However, there’s a twist. In the MPC, voluntary manslaughter includes killings done in the heat of passion or under extreme emotional disturbance. In other words, the person was under extreme stress or emotion and killed someone as a result.

For involuntary manslaughter, the MPC includes cases where the person didn’t intend to kill but they acted recklessly. Their reckless behavior caused someone’s death. It’s similar to the common law definition but with a few differences.

Penalties for Manslaughter

This is a severe crime, and the penalties reflect this. They can include imprisonment, fines, and probation. The exact punishment depends on various factors. These include how the victim died and the level of the guilty party’s fault. Other factors might lessen or increase the penalties. For instance, if the person showed remorse, it might reduce their sentence. But if they were particularly cruel, their punishment could be increased.

Conclusion: A Crime of Unintended Consequences

Manslaughter is a crime of unintended consequences. It’s a case where someone’s actions lead to another’s death but without the intent to kill. Whether it’s in the heat of passion or due to reckless behavior, it shows that our actions can have severe, unintended consequences. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of managing our emotions and behaving responsibly.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/29/2023

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