The Law Firm of Oklahoma Criminal Defense Attorney Dustin Phillips

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Manslaughter Defense

Although all homicide is the taking of another human life, manslaughter does not demonstrate the intent or premeditation often seen in murder charges. Manslaughter deaths are often accidental; however, they result from criminal recklessness and negligence.

Just as it does with murder, state law classifies manslaughter by degrees. First degree manslaughter is a more egregious offense than second degree manslaughter, and therefore, conviction is subject to harsher penalties. However, even a conviction of second degree manslaughter can be life-altering, leading to significant sentencing and a criminal record of homicide.

First Degree Manslaughter

The distinction between first degree manslaughter and second degree murder can sometimes be confusing; however, the penalties of conviction are typically much less severe than those associated with a murder conviction. Because of the often subtle differences between homicide charges, it is critical that a defendant allows an experienced defense lawyer to handle the case. In many cases, a more serious charge may be reduced, or a jury may be instructed to consider a lesser included offense as an alternative charge.

State law lists the following acts of homicide as manslaughter in the first degree:

  • When an unintentional death occurs in the commission of a misdemeanor
  • When an unintentional homicide is committed "in the heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner"
  • When a life is taken by means of a dangerous weapon, except in cases of justifiable homicide
  • When the homicide is committed unnecessarily to prevent the commission of a crime or after the attempt has failed
  • When a physician is intoxicated while performing his or her duties and causes the death of a patient
  • When a person performs or induces an unlawful abortion

One of the most common scenarios for a first degree manslaughter charge is a fatal DUI accident. Typically in Oklahoma, DUI is a misdemeanor, so when a death occurs as a result of a driver's careless action and disregard for life, the offense is charged as first degree manslaughter.

First degree manslaughter is punishable by a minimum of four years in prison.

Second Degree Manslaughter

Unless it falls under the specific circumstances defined as first degree manslaughter, acts of negligence that result in death are charged as manslaughter in the second degree:

  • "Every killing of one human being by the act, procurement or culpable negligence of another, which, under the provisions of this chapter, is not murder, nor manslaughter in the first degree, nor excusable nor justifiable homicide, is manslaughter in the second degree." (21 O.S. § 716)
  • In a fatal animal attack, the owner of the animal may also be charged with second degree manslaughter if he or she knew of the animal's propensity for violence, yet failed to keep it contained or kept it "without ordinary care."

Second degree manslaughter is a felony, and conviction of this offense carries a potential sentence of 2 to 4 years in the state penitentiary.

Fighting a Manslaughter Charge

If you or a loved one has unintentionally caused the death of another person, you are most likely dealing with guilt, depression, and despair. Facing a criminal charge and the prospect of prison as a punishment for a mistake or act of negligence may seem too much to bear. In the eyes of the law, however, your personal suffering does not mitigate the act, and you face serious consequences, the ramifications of which can last a lifetime.

You need someone to aggressively defend you against the homicide charge. Our attorneys understand the implications of your arrest and charge, and we are committed to providing top quality legal counsel and defense representation to bring your case to its optimal resolution.
Call today to discuss your case with a qualified attorney. Consultations are free and confidential.