What is manslaughter?

What is manslaughter


In Pennsylvania, two types of manslaughter are recognized in the law, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. While these crimes are criminal homicides, they are less serious than murder charges. If you have been charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, you should talk to Michael DiCindio at DiCindio Law to learn about your rights and the defenses that might be raised.

Definition of voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Voluntary manslaughter is defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503. According to this statute, a defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter when he or she kills someone else without legal justification and he or she was acting under the heat of passion that results from serious provocation by the following people:

  • the victim who is killed; or
  • A third person that the defendant tries to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead

A second way in which voluntary manslaughter can be committed is when the defendant kills someone when he or she has an unreasonable belief that the killing is legally justified. To determine whether a killing happened in the heat of passion because of provocation by the victim or a third person, the provoking circumstances will be reviewed objectively. The provoking act must be of such a nature that it would have caused an emotional or passionate reaction in a reasonable person.

If you had time to cool down after the provocation and when you committed the killing, you will not be eligible for a voluntary manslaughter charge and will likely be charged with murder instead. To determine whether you had enough time to calm down between the provoking act and the killing, the state will look at all of the events leading up to the homicide. If enough time passed, the prosecutor may charge the defendant with murder instead.

The unreasonable belief form of voluntary manslaughter refers to a mistaken belief that you needed to use deadly force to protect yourself or someone else from the victim. If the prosecutor can prove that you escalated or created a dangerous situation, the prosecutor may charge you with murder.

Defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges

The defenses that might be raised to voluntary manslaughter charges will depend on the facts and circumstances of how the killing occurred. Some of the defenses might include the following:

  • Self-defense
  • Defense of others
  • Battered women’s syndrome
  • Accidental death with no criminal intent when you were engaged in a lawful action

Penalties for voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony in Pennsylvania. If you are convicted of this offense, you can face up to 20 years in prison.

Involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania

Involuntary manslaughter is codified at 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504. Unlike other types of criminal homicide in Pennsylvania, involuntary manslaughter does not require that you had an intent to kill the victim. Instead, involuntary manslaughter is reserved for situations in which the killings were unintentional. Involuntary manslaughter is punished by the state to try to prevent activities that are performed with gross negligence or in reckless disregard for human life.

Prosecutors are required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants who are charged with involuntary manslaughter caused the deaths by engaging in grossly negligent or reckless conduct while they were engaging in unlawful or lawful activity. For example, a person may be charged with involuntary manslaughter if he or she recklessly drove a car and caused the death of the victim. The prosecutor must be able to show the link between the defendant’s negligent or reckless conduct and the death of the victim. If the defendant’s conduct cannot be directly or substantially linked to the victim’s death, the prosecutor may not be able to prove a charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Gross negligence or reckless disregard can be proven by the prosecutor by using a reasonable person standard. This involves a comparison between the defendant’s actions to the standard of care that would be expected of a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances. The prosecutor may also analyze whether the defendant ignored an existing danger or continued with his or her activity after substantial risks were obvious.

Defenses to involuntary manslaughter charges

Some of the possible defenses to charges of involuntary manslaughter include the following:

  • The defendant’s actions were not a direct or substantial cause of the death of the victim
  • The killing was accidental and occurred while the defendant was engaged in lawful activity and was not acting with criminal intent, gross negligence, or reckless disregard

It is important to note that Pennsylvania does not allow defendants to raise a defense of voluntary intoxication to involuntary manslaughter charges.

Penalties for involuntary manslaughter

Pennsylvania classifies involuntary manslaughter as a first-degree misdemeanor offense in most cases. A conviction for this offense carries a potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

However, if you committed involuntary manslaughter of a child who was younger than age 12 while serving as the child’s custodian, caregiver, or parent, the offense is charged as a second-degree felony. A conviction for felony involuntary manslaughter can include from five to 10 years in prison.

Some examples of activities that can lead to a charge of involuntary manslaughter include the following:

  • Reckless driving
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Speeding or other traffic offenses
  • Child neglect
  • The improper withholding of medical care from a person who dies

Get help from DiCindio Law

If you are facing voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charges, contact DiCindio Law to schedule a free consultation. We can be reached at 610-430-3535 24 hours per day and seven days per week.

Sentencing and Penalties For First Degree Murder

Criminal homicides in Pennsylvania involve the unlawful deaths of people and are divided into three murder offenses and two manslaughter crimes. Murder charges are found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2502 and include first-, second-, and third-degree murder. First-degree murder is the most serious murder offense. If you are facing first-degree murder charges or your loved one has been charged with this offense, talk to DiCindio Law for help in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Proving first-degree murder

To be charged and convicted of a murder offense, the prosecutor must be able to prove that you acted with actual malice. Malice is proven by showing that you intended to commit the victim’s killing or that you intended to cause harm. First-degree murder requires an intentional killing, meaning that you intended to kill the victim. First-degree murder charges require the prosecutor to show that you acted with express malice.

The prosecutor must prove that you had a specific intent to cause the victim’s death. Your specific intent to murder may be shown by the state by evaluating your actions, the circumstances, and whether you used a deadly weapon.

First-degree murder vs. other homicide offenses

First-degree murder is an intentional killing that involves planning, premeditation, and deliberate acts. Second-degree murder is charged when a killing happens while the defendant is committing a different felony as a principal or an accomplice. Third-degree murder offenses include all other types of murder and involve malice.

Voluntary manslaughter is a heat of passion killing following provocation by the victim or by a third party or when a person has an unreasonable and mistaken belief that the killing is justified. Finally, involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional homicide that results from grossly negligent or reckless conduct regarding the life of the victim.

Penalties for first-degree murder in Pennsylvania

First-degree murder is the most serious murder crime in Pennsylvania. This means that it may be punished by the most severe possible punishments under the law. Prosecutors have the burden of proving the elements of first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendants can be convicted of this offense. To do this, the prosecutors must prove that the defendant committed an unlawful, intentional, and premeditated killing of another person.

First-degree murder is set apart from other homicide and murder offenses by the planning, deliberate acts, and premeditation by the defendant. If the killing was spontaneous or occurred after provocation during a heat of passion, it will likely be charged as a different homicide offense in Pennsylvania.

Under 18 Pa.C.S. § 1102, a person who is convicted of first-degree murder in Pennsylvania may face either life imprisonment or a death sentence. However, if the person is convicted for the first-degree murder of an unborn child, he or she will not face the death penalty but will face life in prison.

Defenses to first-degree murder charges in Pennsylvania

First-degree murder cases are complex and carry extremely high stakes. Your attorney will carefully review and analyze all of the evidence that is being held in your case to identify the best defense strategies to follow. Some of the potential defenses that might be raised include the following:

  • You did not have the required mental capacity to have a specific intent to kill;
  • You were voluntarily intoxicated at the time of the offense;
  • You were insane at the time of the offense and could not distinguish between right and wrong;
  • You were acting in self-defense;
  • You had battered women’s syndrome, which caused you to kill your spouse or partner;
  • The killing was accidental and you did not have criminal intent and were engaging in a lawful activity;
  • You were misidentified as the killer;
  • You have an alibi for the time and date of the killing; or
  • You committed the killing while you were under duress.

Imposing the death penalty

If you are convicted of first-degree murder, your case will enter into the sentencing phase. During this phase, the prosecutor and the defense attorney will present arguments about the punishment that you should face. The prosecutor may present evidence of aggravating factors that support a death sentence. The defense attorney may present evidence of mitigating factors to argue against the death penalty.

Talk to DiCindio Law

Facing murder charges can be devastating and could potentially lead to a life behind bars or a death sentence. Getting help from an experienced attorney is crucial for these types of charges. Contact DiCindio Law to learn about your case at 610-430-3535.

Sentencing and Penalties Voluntary Manslaughter

All homicide offenses in Pennsylvania are serious crimes, including voluntary manslaughter. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, you may face severe consequences. While all homicides are serious, they are not all treated the same. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser offense than a murder charge, but it still requires you to mount a vigorous defense. At DiCindio Law, we represent people who have been accused of committing all types of crimes, including homicide offenses. Here is what you need to understand about voluntary manslaughter, the penalties, and the possible defenses.

Criminal homicide and voluntary manslaughter

Criminal homicide is defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 as being the intentional, reckless, knowing, or negligent killing of another person. Multiple crimes are considered to be criminal homicide offenses, including the following:

  • First-degree murder
  • Second-degree murder
  • Third-degree murder
  • Voluntary manslaughter
  • Involuntary manslaughter
  • Causing or assisting suicide
  • Delivering drugs that cause death
  • Criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer

First-degree murder is the most serious type of criminal homicide and can result in capital punishment or life in prison without parole. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are criminal homicide offenses for cases in which the facts do not quite rise to the level of a murder charge. In some cases, however, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with murder as well as voluntary manslaughter when the prosecutor is unsure that he or she will be able to prove the elements of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors do this to try to ensure that they can secure convictions against defendants whom they believe killed people.

The main difference between manslaughter and murder is the degree of culpability. Murder charges require that the killers acted with malice. Manslaughter is an unjustified killing that does not include malice. The penalties for manslaughter are much less severe than they are for murder. Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter, however.

Voluntary vs. involuntary manslaughter

In Pennsylvania, manslaughter is classified into two types, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. These two different types of manslaughter are distinguished by the intent and the circumstances. Involuntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504 and is less serious than voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a defendant kills another person while he or she is acting recklessly or with gross negligence while performing a lawful or unlawful act. Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying the potential of up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter and carries harsher penalties. Voluntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503 and occurs when a defendant kills another person in a heat of passion because of provocation by the victim. It also includes a killing when the defendant is in a heat of passion after being provoked by a third party who the defendant attempts to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead. Finally, it also includes scenarios in which the defendant intentionally killed another person under an unreasonable belief that the killing is justified such as in a case of imperfect self-defense or defense of others.

The provocation for voluntary manslaughter has to be severe enough that any reasonable person would have a passionate reaction. For the killing to be considered to have happened in the heat of passion, the killing must follow the provocation without sufficient time passing for the defendant to calm down. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, it is a first-degree felony that carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.

Potential defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges

The defenses that your attorney might raise to defend you against voluntary manslaughter charges will depend on the circumstances and facts of what occurred. Your lawyer might examine the evidence and investigate the case to determine whether it might have been a negligent or accidental killing instead of an intentional act. He or she might also look to determine whether you might have been acting in self-defense instead of reacting to provocation and if your beliefs were reasonable.

Your attorney will carefully review the facts to identify all of the defenses that you might be able to raise in your case. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, contact DiCindio Law in West Chester to start building your defense. Fill out our online contact form to request a free consultation.

Pennsylvania’s Stand Your Ground Law: What You Need To Know

“Stand your ground” laws have been particularly divisive ever since the case involving the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012. Some critics of these laws have referred to them as “shoot first” laws. Proponents of these laws argue that innocent people are kept out of prison because of them. While these laws might be controversial, they may help people who are charged with homicide or assault for defending themselves. It is important for you to understand the rules that apply to these laws and how they might impact your case’s outcome. If these laws might apply to you, the criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law may be able to help you to assert them in your defense.

What is a “stand your ground” law?

Florida passed the first “stand your ground” law in 2005. Many states have passed their own similar laws since that time, including Pennsylvania. Under Pa. Cons. Stat. § 505(b)(2.3), a person who is not acting in a criminal manner and who is not illegally possessing a firearm who is attacked in an area in which he or she would normally have a duty to retreat has a right to stand his or her ground and to use force to protect himself or herself, including deadly force. However, this exclusion to the duty to retreat only applies if the person had the right to be in the place where he or she was. He or she must reasonably believe that using force was necessary to protect against imminent serious bodily injury, death, sexual intercourse, or kidnapping. The attacker must also have been armed with a real gun, an imitation gun, or another lethal weapon such as a knife at the time that the person stood his or her ground.

A serious bodily injury is an injury that may cause permanent disfigurement, a high risk of death, or that causes an impairment of the function of an organ or a body part. This means that Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law does not apply to an ordinary bodily injury such as a minor laceration. In cases in which the person had an imminent fear of an ordinary bodily injury, he or she would not be able to raise the stand your ground law as a defense.

For the weapon that the attacker has, it must be something that the person sees.  Other states may not require that the person sees a weapon in the attacker’s possession.

Using deadly force and stand your ground laws

There are some restrictions on Pennsylvania’s stand your ground law that are important to defendants who are facing charges of assault or homicide. Using deadly force will not be considered to be justifiable in situations in which the person who used the force was not defending herself or himself against serious bodily injury, death, sexual intercourse, or kidnapping.

In other circumstances people are not required to retreat from their own homes or workplaces unless they provoked the attack or were attacked by a coworker that they knew at their jobs. Not having to retreat while you are in your own home is also called the castle doctrine. The exceptions to your duty to retreat will not apply if you used force against an on-duty police officer who you knew or should have known was an officer.

Contact DiCindio Law

If you are facing serious charges for homicide or assault for defending yourself after you were attacked, it is important for you to learn whether you might be able to assert a defense under the state’s stand your ground law. The experienced criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law can review the facts of your case and help you to understand whether the stand your ground law might apply or if a different defense might be available to you. Contact our office today by calling 610.430.3535 to learn about the options that you might have.

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.

Michael D. DiCindio, Esq. is a West Chester criminal defense lawyer and personal injury attorney who represents individuals accused of crimes or injured by the negligence of others throughout all of Chester County, including West Chester, Phoenixville, Malvern, Coatesville, Paoli, Downingtown, Tredyffrin, West Goshen, Honey Brook, Oxford, Devon, Pottstown, Chesterbrook, Parkesburg, Kennett Square, and Avondale