Although both involve the killing of a person by another, manslaughter is a very different crime from murder. We may hear the term, but not really understand the difference. But when you are involved in a homicide, those differences can mean a lot.
The key difference between murder and manslaughter is intent. Murder is an intentional, unlawful killing. Manslaughter, on the other hand, does not involve intention to cause death.
Like all homicides in Oklahoma, manslaughter is classified according to degree, with first-degree manslaughter being a more serious crime than second-degree manslaughter.
First-Degree Manslaughter Defined
In all cases, the death in manslaughter must have occurred without the intent to kill. In addition, first-degree manslaughter requires that the death occurs under one of three possible circumstances:
The death occurs during the commission of a misdemeanor. Any misdemeanor with qualify, even one as innocuous as driving with a revoked driver’s license. However, if the death occurs because of reckless driving, the matter will usually be charged as a negligent homicide rather than as manslaughter. the offense relied upon as a predicate for misdemeanor-manslaughter must directly and proximately cause the homicide; or
Heat of Passion Manslaughter
The death occurs in the heat of passion, in a cruel and unusual manner and the death is not legally justified or excused. The provocation must be such as to induce passion in a reasonable person in the position of the defendant. Swear words or threats are an insufficient provocation to trigger the defense.
For example, the defendant, having no intent to kill the victim, comes home after a long day at work. The victim, his wife, has belittled him for years. She is sharpening her kitchen knives and starts chastising him again. An argument ensues and he picks up one of the knives intending to scare her with it. It slips as he is turning and pierces the victim’s upper leg, severing the femoral artery and the victim dies.; or
The death occurs by means of a dangerous weapon, or when the death occurred unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed, to commit a crime, or after that attempt has failed. The defendant did not initiate the difficulty, yet honestly but unreasonably believes either that he is in danger of injury, or that slaying is the only way to prevent injury. This may occur during an attempted burglary for example. A person may defend their home and the people in it, but lethal force in defense of property or to resist a crime that would not kill the victim is against the law. OUJI-CR 4-102. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 711.
In addition, any doctor who intoxicated and whose care of a patient results in the death of that patient, can be convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 712. Likewise, a doctor who performs an abortion on a “quickened” child may be convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 714.
Penalties for First Degree Manslaughter
First-degree manslaughter is a felony in Oklahoma. The crime is punishable by at least 4 years in prison. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 715.
Second Degree Manslaughter
A death which occurs as a result of an act, procurement or culpable negligence of another, and which, does not qualify as murder, or manslaughter in the first degree, and which is not excusable or justifiable homicide, is manslaughter in the second degree. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 716.
In this case, death occurs as a result of culpable negligence. Culpable negligence refers to the omission to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions. OUJI-CR 4-104. For example, manslaughter in the second degree has been found where a defendant fired a rifle across a field at some animals while hunting but the bullet accidentally struck and killed someone.
The crime is a felony punishable by imprisonment from 2-4 years, or up to one year in the county jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 722.
You want to avoid prison if at all possible. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help. The prosecution will bring their “A” game. You should too.
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