Can You Get Life in Prison for Manslaughter?

We all know that when someone is convicted of the crime of murder, they will end up in prison. It’s the most violent crime in the criminal code, and it comes with the harshest penalties. Taking someone’s life usually results in a lengthy prison sentence. In many states, there’s no possibility for parole. In some jurisdictions, there’s also the chance that a murder conviction could result in the death penalty.

However, when someone dies at the hands of another, our criminal justice system doesn’t necessarily classify the crime as murder. Sometimes, it is manslaughter. So, what’s the difference between manslaughter and murder? Can you get life in prison for manslaughter?

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • What’s the difference between murder and manslaughter?
  • What’s the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?
  • The possible penalties for a manslaughter conviction

What’s the difference between murder and manslaughter?

When it comes to differentiating between the crime of, “murde,r” and the crime of, “manslaughter,” there are a few different factors. Most notably, it depends on the state of mind of the killer. 

For example, in the state of California, murder is defined as killing someone with, “malice aforethought,” or malice. There are two types of malice: express malice and implied malice. 

Express malice is when someone intends to kill another. Implied malice is when someone intentionally does something that they know is dangerous to another person’s life, and that act results in the person’s death. In other words, there was a conscious disregard for human life when the crime was committed. 

If an unlawful killing involves expressed or implied malice, then it is defined as murder. If it doesn’t involve malice aforethought, then it is defined as manslaughter. 

Manslaughter is still a very serious crime. However, the punishment for it in most states is generally less than the crime of murder. 

What’s the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?

Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of another person or persons without malice. However, there is still a, “conscious disregard for human life.” Manslaughter can be either voluntary or involuntary.

Voluntary manslaughter is when a murder is committed in self defense or in the heat of passion. The “heat of passion” is defined as a killing that results from someone being provoked. The provocation causes intense emotion and a rash act. In this type of a case, a jury must decide if the defendant was provoked to a point of intense emotion instead of acting in premeditated anger.

Involuntary manslaughter is when someone is killed unintentionally as the result of recklessness or criminal negligence. One of the most common examples would be a DUI. 

Driving under the influence is a low-level felony, or even a misdemeanor in some states. If you are driving under the influence and cause an accident that results in someone’s death, that is involuntary manslaughter.

The possible penalties for a manslaughter conviction

With the distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in the criminal code, the two crimes come with different possible penalties, and these vary by state.

If a jury has convicted a defendant of voluntary manslaughter, the exact punishment they will face depends on the language of the law that governs the punishment. As a rule, there is a range of punishments that the court can choose from when handing down the sentence. Judges can also consider aggravating and mitigating factors.

As a rule, aggravating factors will add to the sentence. While the mitigating factors usually reduce the severity of punishment.

Federal law against voluntary manslaughter states that a person who is convicted under this statute should receive fines, a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, or both. 

California’s voluntary manslaughter law states that anyone who is found guilty must serve a sentence between three and 11 years. Connecticut’s penalty for first degree manslaughter is one to 20 years, or five to 40 years if a firearm was used. In Georgia, voluntary manslaughter will result in a mandatory sentence of between 30 and 70 years. 

In the state of Washington, the law doesn’t specifically define voluntary/involuntary manslaughter. Instead, they separate the crime by first and second degree. First degree manslaughter (voluntary) comes with a sentence of up to life in prison and $50k in fines.

But Washington isn’t the only state that has a possible punishment of life in prison for voluntary manslaughter. Since a life sentence in most states is defined as 15 years with the chance of parole, a defendant can definitely get a, “life sentence.” Sometimes, they can get a lot more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the defendant will die in prison.

The same can be said for involuntary manslaughter cases. Some states have hefty penalties for involuntary manslaughter that can be the equivalent of a life sentence. In Mississippi, you can get a sentence of up to 20 years for involuntary manslaughter. In New Hampshire, a manslaughter conviction can put you in prison for up to 30 years.

However, the punishment for involuntary manslaughter is usually a bit less than the punishment for voluntary manslaughter. Some states have a limit of five years in prison, and some go all the way down to just one year. 

Just like with any crime in the United States, it really depends on the circumstances of the case and the specific laws in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. 

Are you surprised that a manslaughter conviction can result in life in prison? Are you surprised that a life sentence is only considered 15 years with the possibility of parole? Let us know in the comments below.

Will I Go To Jail If Convicted of Manslaughter?

What is manslaughter? What is murder vs. manslaughter?

18 U.S.C. § 1112 - U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 1112. Manslaughter

Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing

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