Homicide is the killing of one person by another. Homicide is a general term and may refer to a noncriminal act as well as the criminal act of murder. Some homicides are considered justifiable, such as the killing of a person to prevent the commission of a serious felony or to aid a representative of the law. Other homicides are said to be excusable, as when a person kills in self defense. A criminal homicide is one that is not regarded by the applicable criminal code as justifiable or excusable.
First-degree murder can be defined as the most heinous type of murder that one could have committed to cause another individual’s death. Under the common law originating from custom and court decisions rather than statues, murder was an intentional killing that was:
- Unlawful in other words, not legally justified and
- Committed with “malice aforethought.”
In criminal law, a category of criminal homicide that generally carries a lesser penalty than the crime of murder. Different legal systems use different criteria to distinguish the kinds and degrees of unjustified killing. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when one person kills another without intent. This type of manslaughter happens when the offender does not use proper care and attention while undertaking a legal act or while undertaking an act that is not considered a serious offense. This could be the result of negligence or while being reckless, as in the case of someone driving carelessly, or where someone is carrying out their lawful duty but does so in a reckless or careless way, such as a doctor performing a medical procedure.
Manslaughter is a less serious type of homicide. It is characterized as the killing of another person without the intention to kill. Similar to second degree murder, it is defined by Section 234 of the criminal code defines manslaughter as “culpable homicide that is not murder or infanticide”.
There are certain guidelines for the courts sentencing these very serious and difficult cases.
Since there are several types of manslaughter and sentences can differ very significantly for those convicted of it, we thought it would be helpful to write a blog post about this offence more generally to give an overview of the offence the different types and why sentences can range so widely.
Manslaughter is an extremely varied area of offending. It can involve an unintended death resulting from an assault, a fatality caused by negligence or someone who kills while suffering from a mental disorder. Sentence levels can also vary widely, from suspended sentences up to life sentences being given.
When courts are sentencing offenders, it is the seriousness of the offence which decides the level of sentence given, within the parameters allowed by law, such as maximum sentences.
Seriousness is determined by assessing two factors: the harm caused to the victim and the culpability of the offender. The nature of the harm will vary from offence to offence: the harm caused by fraud and assault are of course very different. Some offences will also involve an inherently greater degree of harm than others, for example the harm caused by common assault can never be of the level involved in grievous bodily harm.
The culpability of the offender can also vary greatly. For example, some offenders commit offences with a great deal of planning, others are opportunists acting on the spur of the moment. Some may have a leading role in a group committing a crime, others may be pressured into collaborating.
Manslaughter always involves the highest level of harm, since by definition it always involves a fatality. Because of this, the law allows a sentence up to life imprisonment. However, manslaughter stands out in terms of the gamut of sentence levels that are given, which can range from suspended sentences to substantial life terms. This reflects the hugely different circumstances in which a manslaughter occurs and the levels of culpability. Manslaughter can involve an offence that is not far from being an accident, while another may be just short of murder.
Manslaughter falls into two broad categories: involuntary and voluntary.
Involuntary manslaughter is unlawful killing without the intent to kill or cause really serious harm and is a common law offence. There are two classes of involuntary, unlawful act manslaughter and manslaughter by gross negligence.
Unlawful act manslaughter is charged when death occurs due to a criminal act which a reasonable person would realise must subject some other person to at least the risk of some physical harm. It doesn’t matter whether or not the offender knew that the act was unlawful and dangerous or whether harm was intended. This is by far the most common type of manslaughter with around 100 offenders being sentenced annually. It often involves deaths that come about as a result of assaults, a typical scenario being the so-called “one punch” manslaughter. These can vary enormously in the planning and intention of the offender. There could be a situation not far from being an accident such as a minor argument between friends where one pushes the other who unexpectedly falls and suffers fatal injuries.
In one case, sentenced in 2016, a silly row between two men who had been close friends for 45 years led to one hitting the other, who fell, striking his head, which caused his death. The family of the victim asked for the sentence to be suspended, but a 28-month sentence was imposed.
Manslaughter can also arise out of other unlawful acts such as robbery, arson and affray. In 2016, two men received sentences of 13 years and 9 years respectively for robbing a pizza delivery man who was punched to the ground with fatal results. Manslaughter crime lawyers in Burlington saving many innocents from sentence of life to prison because of minor detail of the scene.
Manslaughter by gross negligence occurs when the offender is in breach of a duty of care towards the victim, the breach causes the death of the victim and, having regard to the risk involved, the offender’s conduct was so bad as to amount to a criminal act or commission. It could involve parents or carers failing to protect a child from an obvious danger, employers completely disregarding the safety of employees or medical practitioners giving wholly inadequate care to a patient.