Washington State First Degree Manslaughter Lawyers

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 What is Murder?

Murder in the first degree is a homicide committed with:

  • Premeditation;
  • Deliberation; and
  • Malice.

Murder in the second degree is homicide committed without premeditation and deliberation. The element which distinguishes murder from manslaughter is malice aforethought.

Malice includes:

  • The intent to kill;
  • The intent to inflict great bodily harm; or
  • The intentional creation or awareness of a very high risk that death or great bodily harm would occur.

Simply put, malice is the intent to cause harm. In some jurisdictions, murder is classified as killing an individual knowingly, purposely, or recklessly with extreme indifference to human life, or depraved heart killing.

An example would be shooting at a moving vehicle and intentionally killing an individual inside. It is important to note that all murders are considered homicides but not all homicides are considered murder.

Homicide means to kill another human being, even if it occurs by accident. Murder is the intentional killing of another individual.

What is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another individual perpetrated without premeditation, malice, or deliberation. In other words, it is an unlawful killing committed recklessly or with criminal negligence.

Manslaughter is not considered murder because there are mitigating circumstances present. Manslaughter may be categorized as voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.

What is the Difference between Manslaughter and Murder?

Murder and manslaughter are different due to the defendant’s state of mind when committing each offense. As noted above, murder typically requires:

  • Premeditation;
  • Malice; and
  • Planning.

Manslaughter is an unlawful killing committed without malice but instead with:

  • Conscious disregard for human life;
  • Recklessness; or
  • Criminal negligence.

Murder is often mitigated to manslaughter due to mitigating factors or circumstances surrounding the killing.

What are the Two Types of Manslaughter?

The two main categories of manslaughter are voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is an act of killing that would typically be defined as murder but was committed in response to an adequate provocation.

If an adequate provocation resulted in the killing, criminal charges may be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter. Adequate provocation is a circumstance that is sufficient to incite a normal individual to sudden and intense passion.

A court will typically accept certain examples of adequate provocation, including:

  • Conduct or act that is sufficient to deprive a reasonable individual of self-control;
  • The provocation actually provoked the defendant;
  • The time between the provocation and the actual killing cannot be long enough for reasonable individual to cool off; and
  • The defendant actually never cooled off.

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when an individual unintentionally kills due to a lack of care. Involuntary manslaughter commonly occurs on two occasions:

  • Where there is a death attributed to recklessness or criminal negligence; and
  • Related to an unlawful act that is a low-level felony or a misdemeanor.

For example, in vehicular manslaughter, the death occurs during a traffic violation, for example, driving under the influence.

What is State of Mind and Why Does it Matter?

Mens rea is a legal concept which examines the state of mind of a perpetrator at the time a crime was committed. The literal translation of the term is guilty mind.

Mens rea refers to the perpetrator’s mindset at the exact moment that they committed a criminal offense. For example, suppose an individual was playing around with a loaded gun at a shooting range.

If another individual is killed as a result, the shooter’s state of mind would be that they did not intend to kill the individual but their behavior may amount to more than just mere carelessness. When an individual recklessly disregards a substantial risk, such as in the example above, and another individual is killed, the perpetrator may be charged with a crime.

Mens rea is a very important element of a criminal charge because it can determine whether or not to charge a defendant with a specific crime as well as which crime to charge. This may affect the punishment the defendant receives, including incarceration, criminal fines, the death penalty, or other punishments.

What is the Difference in Punishment between Murder and Manslaughter?

Murder is the most serious criminal punishment an individual can commit. The minimum sentence for murder will vary by state.

However, the majority of states reserve life imprisonment and the death penalty for first degree murder. These are special deterrents that are used to discourage future offenses.

In general, a court will consider a number of different factors when sentencing a convicted murderer. Other times, however, the court will be bound by mandatory sentencing minimums.

An individual who is charged with murder typically faces prison time in addition to other consequences, which may include:

  • Probation and parole;
  • Criminal fines; and
  • Restitution which is paid from the defendant to the victim’s family.

Manslaughter cases, in contrast, are considered to be less severe offenses because they typically do not involve the intention to kill an individual. Every state has its own statutes that determine how to punish a manslaughter offender.

The consequences will typically depend upon:

  • Whether the charge is voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter;
  • If the defendant was under the influence at the time; or
  • If a weapon was used.

The majority of states provide harsher punishment for a voluntary manslaughter case than for an involuntary manslaughter case. For example, the punishment for voluntary manslaughter may range from 3 to 7 years in prison.

The punishment for involuntary manslaughter may range from a minimum of 1 year to a maximum of 4 years in prison.

What is Manslaughter in the First Degree in Washington State?

In the State of Washington, a defendant may be charged with first degree manslaughter if they:

  • Recklessly caused the death of another person; or
  • Intentionally and unlawfully killed an unborn child by inflicting any injury upon the mother.

Is Manslaughter in the First Degree the Same as Voluntary Manslaughter Charge?

First degree manslaughter is not the same as voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is the act of killing which is committed with adequate provocation, or a sudden fit of rage.

This passion causes an individual to kill without intending or planning to do so. Another common phrase used to describe it is heat of passion provocation. This is often used to describe certain situations, such as when a defendant finds their spouse in bed with another person.

Is First Degree Manslaughter a Misdemeanor Offense?

No, first degree manslaughter is not a misdemeanor offense. It is a felony offense.

Washington State classifies first degree manslaughter as a Class A felony.

What is the Difference between Manslaughter in the First Degree and Manslaughter in the Second Degree?

Second degree manslaughter involves criminal negligence, meaning that the defendant did not intend to kill another individual. Instead, the killing was committed due to a lack of care.

First degree manslaughter, on the other hand, involves being reckless when causing the death of another individual. Reckless behavior occurs when a defendant should have known that their behavior will very likely cause injury or death to another individual.

Should I Discuss My Situation with a Lawyer?

If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to manslaughter or you have been accused of manslaughter in any degree, it is important to consult with a Washington criminal lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you regarding the laws in the state as well as any possible defenses that may be presented in your case.

Your attorney may be able to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecution. In some cases, your attorney may also be able to have your charges reduced.

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