Utah Manslaughter Lawyers

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 What Is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is a legal term that refers to the unlawful killing of another person, that is not considered to be murder due to surrounding or mitigating circumstances. Typically, manslaughter is a criminal charge utilized by the prosecution when the killer did not actually plan to kill the person who died.

As such, manslaughter and murder are two different legal concepts altogether, determined by the defendant’s state of mind. This means that the defendant’s state of mind when they killed the other person is what determines whether they will be charged with murder or manslaughter.

The crime of murder generally requires the following criminal elements to be proven:

  • Malice;
  • Premeditation; and
  • Planning.

In contrast, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another human being without malice, but with either the conscious disregard for human life (i.e. recklessness) and/or criminal negligence. Murder charges can also be reduced to manslaughter charges due to various mitigating factors, as well as specific circumstances that may have surrounded the incident that resulted in death.

There are two main types of manslaughter:

  1. Voluntary Manslaughter: Voluntary manslaughter is homicide (i.e. an act of killing that resulted in a death) that would generally be defined as murder, but the killing was committed in response to adequate provocation.
    • Adequate provocation is typically defined as being anything sufficient to incite a normal person to a sudden response of intense passion.
  2. Involuntary Manslaughter: Involuntary manslaughter refers to when a person unintentionally kills another person due to a lack of care. Involuntary manslaughter typically occurs in one of the following ways:
    • When there is a death that is attributed to reckless behavior and/or criminal negligence; or
    • From an unlawful act that is considered to be a misdemeanor, or a low-level felony.
      • For example, in a case of vehicular manslaughter, a death may occur during a traffic violation, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

To reiterate, both the criminal charges of murder and manslaughter consider what the defendant’s state of mind was at the time of the killing. As such, a defendant will likely be found guilty of murder if their actions were premeditated and intentional.

Conversely, manslaughter would be the more appropriate criminal charge when the defendant’s unintentional actions resulted in the death of another human being or there is not enough evidence to prove criminal intent. Evidence of mitigating factors may also show that a defendant did not intend to kill the person.

Once again, manslaughter can be categorized as being either involuntary or voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter typically shows some element of provocation, whereas involuntary manslaughter shows that the defendant failed to exercise some level of reasonable care, which resulted in the death of another person. Involuntary manslaughter is sometimes also referred to as criminally negligent homicide. In Utah, there is no distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

The exact legal definition of involuntary manslaughter, as well as the elements that are needed for the prosecution to prove its case varies by state. However, the most common element of involuntary manslaughter is that the victim’s death was accidental.

What Are The Elements Of An Involuntary Manslaughter Charge?

In order for an individual to be found guilty of manslaughter the following criminal elements must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That the defendant’s actions are what caused the death of the victim;
  2. That the defendant’s actions were inherently dangerous, or were done with reckless disregard; and
  3. That the defendant knew, or should have known, that their actions would put the lives of another human being at risk.

It is important to note that not all of the actions that were undertaken by the defendant must be inherently dangerous in order for that element to be met. For example, installing a piece of safety equipment, such as a safety harness on a construction scaffolding is a common job duty.

However, if the scaffolding supervisor failed to properly secure the scaffolding, and then a bypassing pedestrian walking below was killed as a result of the loose scaffolding, the supervisor may be held criminally responsible and charged with involuntary manslaughter.

How Is Manslaughter Defined in Utah?

As mentioned above, the crime of manslaughter is not the same as the crime of murder. It is important to understand the distinctions between homicide, murder, and manslaughter in Utah. In Utah, homicide is the broad legal term used to describe the criminal action of causing the death of another human. The broad term of homicide is then divided into specific criminal offenses, including murder and manslaughter.

An individual may be charged with the crime of murder if that person is suspected of committing the crime of homicide intentionally. However, manslaughter is a separate offense that carries a less severe criminal penalty than that of murder in Utah.

Specifically, the crime of manslaughter is found in Utah Criminal Code § 76-5-205. That criminal code states that criminal homicide becomes manslaughter if the individual:

  • Recklessly causes the death of another;
  • Intentionally, and with knowledge that another individual intends to commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide, aids the other individual to commit suicide;
  • Commits a homicide which would be murder, but the offense is reduced; or
  • Commits murder, but special mitigation is established.

Examples of common factors that can mitigate or reduce murder charges include acting under delusions of a mental illness or acting under the influence of extreme emotional distress that creates a reasonable explanation or excuse. Importantly, being intoxicated or under the influence of drugs will not be a mitigating factor when considering whether to reduce a murder charge to a manslaughter charge.

How Is Recklessness Defined in Utah?

In Utah, recklessness is commonly defined as acting with a willful and wanton disregard for human life. Willful and wanton essentially means taking an action despite knowing that taking such an action creates an unjustifiable risk of serious injury or death to another person. The recklessness element of a manslaughter charge is what makes the crime of manslaughter different from the crime of murder.

Once again, the key element in a murder charge is that the defendant acted with intent to cause the murder, wherein any reckless act that results in another person’s death may end up being a manslaughter charge.

What Are the Criminal Penalties for Manslaughter in Utah?

In Utah, manslaughter is a felony of the second degree. As such, the criminal penalties for manslaughter in Utah may include criminal fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment of one to fifteen years, or a combination of both. Additionally, the prison sentence may be greater if the court finds that there were aggravating factors, such as committing the crime of manslaughter in front of a child.

In addition to the criminal penalties listed above, if the manslaughter is classified as vehicular manslaughter (i.e. the homicide was committed by utilizing a vehicle), then the criminal code authorizes the court to immediately revoke the defendant’s license.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Manslaughter Charges in Utah?

If you are facing manslaughter charges, you should immediately consult with an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney. An experienced Utah defense lawyer will be most aware of Utah’s specific laws regarding manslaughter, and what your legal rights and options are according to those laws.

Additionally, an experienced attorney will be able to represent you in any in person criminal proceedings, as needed, and will be able raise any legal defense that is available to you.

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