Manslaughter v. Murder: Oklahoma Criminal Charges Explained

An Oklahoma City man was arrested on a manslaughter complaint after accidentally shooting and killing his wife. According to police, Bernard Eugene Morris, 57, said that he was bored in the early morning hours Monday, when he decided to get his gun.

He said that he was fooling around with the gun and had his finger on the trigger as he got back into bed, and he accidentally shot his wife, Cynthia Morris, 53, in the torso, fatally wounding her. All homicide is the taking of a human  life by another. However, the law lists several different types of homicide, ranging from capital murder to excusable or justifiable homicide.

What Oklahoma Law Says

Excusable and justifiable homicide are not criminal acts, and they include such acts of taking a human life as self defense, military combat, and legitimate police action. Oklahoma law defines criminal homicide according to two types of offense, with each offense being prosecuted by degrees.

First Degree Murder

The most serious type of homicide is first degree murder (21 O.S. §701.7). Murder in the first degree is characterized by one or more of the following circumstances:

  • Committed with "malice aforethought", or the deliberate and intentional murder of another
  • When a death occurs during the commission of a felony specified in 21 O.S. §701.7
  • A child abuse death or any child death that occurs from "the malicious willful or malicious injuring, torturing, maiming or using of unreasonable force"
  • Soliciting murder in furtherance of a drug crime
  • Intentional killing of a law enforcement officer
First degree murder is punishable by a maximum of life in prison without parole or death. Second degree murder is defined as follows under 21 O.S. § 701.8: 1. When perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual; or2. When perpetrated by a person engaged in the commission of any felony other than the unlawful acts set out in Section 1, subsection B, of this act.


Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter

Second degree murder may occur spontaneously during an act which is not intended to result in the death of the victim, but which is reckless and performed without regard for the risk of death.

An example of second degree murder is the case of Amber Hilberling, a Tulsa woman who pushed her husband in anger, and he fell through the 25th floor window of their apartment. She was sentenced in April to 25 years in prison. Murder in the second degree is punishable by ten years to life in prison.

Manslaughter is an unlawful homicide that occurs from an act not intended to cause death, but which is criminally reckless or dangerous. Like murder, manslaughter is prosecuted as either first degree or second degree.

First degree manslaughter is defined in 21 O.S. § 711: Homicide is manslaughter in the first degree in the following cases:

1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.

2. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.

3. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.

A common example of first degree manslaughter is DUI manslaughter, in which a drunk driver commits the misdemeanor offense of DUI, which results in the death of a victim of a DUI accident. If a death occurs as a result of treatment by an intoxicated physician, that is also charged as first degree manslaughter.

Likewise, unlawful abortion or an attempted unlawful abortion that results in the death of the mother or child is first degree manslaughter. First degree manslaughter is punishable by a minimum of four years in prison.  To learn more about manslaughter and possible defenses click here.

Second degree manslaughter is a catch-all offense used to prosecute any homicide that does not meet the statutory definitions of first degree murder, second degree murder, first degree manslaughter, excusable homicide, or justifiable homicide.  For more information on justifiable homicide click here.

An owner of an animal who fatally attacks another may be charged with second degree manslaughter if he or she knew of the animals propensity for viciousness and did not keep the animal restrained. Second degree manslaughter is punishable by two to four years in prison.