Taking another person’s life is the most grievous offense one person can commit against another. However, sometimes these actions are not intentional, but rather a tragic accident.
For example, a Colorado Springs woman was recently found shot to death in her apartment. The investigation quickly led to her husband, who had been cleaning his rifle and accidentally discharged the weapon, causing the fatal injury.
Because his actions were not intentional, he has been charged with manslaughter rather than murder, which carries a much less severe sentence.
This raises the question: What, exactly, is the difference between manslaughter and murder?
We’ve put together a guide covering what distinguishes manslaughter from murder, and the sentencing and penalties you could face if convicted of the lesser charge.
Manslaughter Versus Murder: A Matter of Intent
The difference between manslaughter and murder is the defendant’s intent. If the defendant planned to kill the victim prior to committing the offense, this is considered first-degree murder, a Class 1 Felony, which is punishable by life in prison.
There are a few scenarios that are exceptions to this rule, which are still considered Class 1 Felonies:
- Felony murder: The defendant is committing a felony, and someone dies during its perpetration. For example, if a kidnapping or sex crime results in the death of the victim, this is considered felony murder.
- Extreme indifference to human life: The defendant acts so negligently as to disregard human life, for example by playing Russian Roulette.
- Drug distribution to children: The defendant distributes drugs to children under 18 on school grounds, and this results in the child’s death, for example by drug overdose.
By contrast, manslaughter occurs when the defendant did not intend to kill the victim and was not committing another felony at the time of the killing.
If the defendant deliberately kills the victim in a heat of passion, for example after walking in on a cheating spouse, this is considered second-degree murder, which in Colorado is synonymous with voluntary manslaughter.
Colorado Manslaughter Charges and Penalties
Manslaughter occurs when the defendant did not intend to kill the victim or killed the victim in a sudden heat of passion. There are a few scenarios under which this could occur, which are prosecuted as separate charges:
- Second Degree Murder/Voluntary Manslaughter: The defendant causes another person’s death in a sudden heat of passion. This is a Class 3 Felony punishable by 4-12 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 – $750,000.
- Manslaughter: The defendant recklessly causes another person’s death, or intentionally aids another person in the commission of suicide. This is a Class 4 Felony punishable by 2-6 years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,000 – $500,000.
- Vehicular Homicide Due to Reckless Driving: The defendant causes another person’s death due to reckless driving, for example by texting and driving or street racing. This is a Class 4 Felony punishable by 2-6 years of imprisonment and a fine of $2,000 – $500,000.
- Vehicular Homicide Due to Intoxication: The defendant causes another person’s death while driving intoxicated. This includes both alcohol and other drugs, whether illicit or prescription. This is a Class 3 Felony punishable by 4-12 years in prison and a fine of $3,000 – $750,000.
Clearly, the charge of manslaughter is quite serious regardless of the circumstances surrounding the alleged offense. However, there are a number of defense strategies that could be used to help your case if you are facing this quite serious charge.
About the Author:
Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.