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Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

Criminal Law Blog by The Law Office of Greg Tsioros

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

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Manslaughter Laws in Texas

In Texas, the crime of manslaughter occurs when one person takes the life of another person without the element of criminal intent. This is a distinct charge from murder because murder refers to the act of intentionally and willingly taking the life of another person.

Under Texas law, there are two distinct types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Although both of these charges can be applied in cases involving a loss of life, they are used under very specific circumstances. The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter can have a huge effect on a criminal case.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter refers to the act of intentional killing with a lack of premeditation. Although this may seem confusing, this crime can be better understood when it is viewed as a distinct entity from murder. Murder involves an element of forethought, planning or deliberation. Voluntary manslaughter lacks this aspect of planning.

Although both crimes involve the intentional taking of a human life, voluntary manslaughter is generally viewed as a less serious offense because the violence it involves is usually caused by a sudden provocation, rather than a distinct period of planning.

There are two main types of voluntary manslaughter:

  • A killing caused by a sudden provocation or in the heat of passion
  • A killing caused by unnecessarily forceful self-defense

In the first case, suppose that a person finds out that their spouse is planning to leave them for another person and take custody of the children. In a fit of rage, the betrayed spouse lashes out and attacks their partner. As a result, the attacked spouse dies. This may be considered manslaughter because it occurred in a heat of passion.

In order to be considered voluntary manslaughter, the provocation that caused the attack must be serious enough that a reasonable person could be caused to lose their rational state of mind. This is why voluntary manslaughter is often described in the context of an extramarital affair.

The other type of voluntary manslaughter involves an over-escalation of self-defense. Although Texas guarantees its citizens the right to use deadly force to defend themselves, they must only do so if they believe that they are in danger of harm, robbery or death.

For example, imagine that Peter is out for a walk during the day. Another man, Mike, approaches Peter and accuses him of sleeping with his wife. Mike shouts expletives and pushes Peter roughly in the chest. Peter responds by drawing a concealed handgun and shoots Mike to death. Although Peter could claim he was acting in self-defense, he may be charged with voluntary manslaughter because Mike was unarmed and did not pose a serious physical threat.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

The primary difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is the factor of intention. Voluntary manslaughter is the result of an intentional act of violence, even though it lacks planning or forethought. Involuntary manslaughter involves an unintentional action that results in death.

There are two main types of involuntary manslaughter:

  • A death caused in the midst of committing another crime
  • A death caused by an accident or action that could have been prevented

In the first scenario, imagine that Miranda is late to work and is speeding to get there on time. As a result of her excessive speed, she causes a fatal car accident. She may be charged with involuntary manslaughter because she broke the law by speeding and, as a result, caused the death of another person.

In another scenario, negligence or recklessness can lead to manslaughter charges. If Bill and Dave are on a hunting trip, they are expected to follow safety precautions because they are using firearms. If Dave begins randomly firing his rifle wildly into the forest and accidentally shoots and kills Bill, he may be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Dave didn’t mean to kill his friend but he showed criminal negligence by discharging a deadly weapon in an unsafe manner.

Legal Penalties

Voluntary manslaughter is the more serious of these two penalties. Under Texas law, a person who commits voluntary manslaughter may face several different outcomes. If they are charged with murder but they can prove that they acted under a sudden passion with an adequate cause, their charge may be lowered to second degree murder. This is punishable by:

  • Up to 20 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

If a person kills someone as the result of recklessness, they may be convicted of manslaughter. This is punishable by:

  • Up to 20 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

If a person kills another as the result of criminal negligence, they can be charged with criminally negligent homicide. This is punishable by:

  • Up to two years in state jail
  • Up to $10,000 in fines

All charges of manslaughter are incredibly serious and it requires a skilled attorney to fully protect your rights. Attorney Greg Tsioros has the experience needed to do exactly that. Contact his office today at (832) 752-5972.

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