The legal term of manslaughter is one that is often misinterpreted. Many people associate the term with the similar crime of murder, but while the definitions of these crimes do share the common factor of being related to one person allegedly causing the death of another person, there are actually very specific legal distinctions between a crime of murder and one of manslaughter.

Murder can be generally defined as the unlawful and deliberate act of taking another person’s life, with malicious intent. Manslaughter, on the other hand, is still considered to be the unlawful taking of another person’s life, but in a crime that is committed without premeditation or malice.

Understanding the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

Crimes of manslaughter fall into one of two categories – either voluntary or involuntary. The differences that determine which of these two charges is applied are actually fairly significant, and the severity of penalties for each reflect this as well.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Nevada legally defines a crime of voluntary manslaughter as a case in which “there must be a serious and highly provoking injury inflicted upon the person killing, sufficient to make the passion irresistible, or involuntary, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act without due caution or circumspection” (NRS 200.050). It is a homicide that is committed without malicious forethought and is commonly known and referred to as a “crime of passion”. As described in Nevada law, this is a “killing that must be the result of that sudden, violent impulse of passion supposed to be irresistible; for, if there should appear to have been an interval between the assault or provocation given and the killing, sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, the killing shall be attributed to deliberate revenge and punished as murder” (NRS 200.060). Summarized, this describes a homicide that is provoked by an event that triggers an immediate reaction that results in the death of another person. The immediacy is a key factor in determining this charge, as any pause allows room for an argument that the resulting death was premeditated and therefore a crime of murder, not manslaughter.

Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter

A conviction of voluntary manslaughter is a category B felony in the state of Nevada. The penalty for this crime is:

●      From 1 to 10 years in Nevada State Prison

●      Possible fines of up to $10,000

Involuntary Manslaughter

Nevada legally defines a crime of involuntary manslaughter as “the killing of a human being, without any intent to do so, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act which probably might produce such a consequence in an unlawful manner, but where the involuntary killing occurs in the commission of an unlawful act, which, in its consequences, naturally tends to destroy the life of a human being, or is committed in the prosecution of a felonious intent” (NRS 200.070This definition is clearly different from that of voluntary manslaughter, but does share similarities with the charge of second degree murder, which is also categorized as an unintentional killing.  However, while a second degree murder charge is considered to be a murder that is the result of more reckless behavior, involuntary manslaughter is the result of negligent behavior. Though this is a fine line in some circumstances, the negligent behavior that is a hallmark of involuntary manslaughter is better exemplified by a frequently used example like that of someone who unintentionally leaves a harmful substance in reach of a child who then ingests it and dies as a result.

The three elements that must be present to convict someone of involuntary manslaughter are:

1.     Someone was killed as a result of the actions of the defendant.

2.     Those actions were either inherently dangerous to others or performed with a reckless disregard for human life.

3.     The defendant either knew or should have known that their conduct was a threat to the lives of others.

Penalties for Involuntary Manslaughter

A conviction of involuntary manslaughter is a category D felony in the state of Nevada.  The penalty for this crime is:

●      From 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison

●      Possible fines of up to $5,000

Vehicular Manslaughter

There is a third category of manslaughter which differs from voluntary and involuntary, and that is the charge of vehicular manslaughter. The legal definition of this crime is described as an event that occurs when “a person who, while driving or in actual physical control of any vehicle, proximately causes the death of another person through an act or omission that constitutes simple negligence” (NRS 484B.657).  In other words, when a driver violates a standard traffic law and their negligence in obeying that law results in the death of another person, that is considered a vehicular manslaughter.

In order for a crime to be convicted as vehicular manslaughter, there must be proof that the death in question was a “natural or probable” result caused by the negligent behavior and traffic law violation of the driver charged. It is necessary to show that there exists a direct link between the death that occurred and the negligent behavior of the driver.

Penalties for Vehicular Manslaughter

A conviction of vehicular manslaughter is a misdemeanor in the state of Nevada. The penalty for this crime is usually:

●      Up to 6 months in jail

●      Possible fines of up to $1,000

●      Driver’s license suspension for 1 year

Any charge of manslaughter, regardless of the degree or type, is a very serious matter and carries very serious penalties upon conviction. While there are many possible defenses to any of the charges detailed above, if you or someone you care about has been charged with voluntary, involuntary or vehicular manslaughter, it is imperative that you find an attorney who is knowledgeable about and experienced in the handling of manslaughter cases. We offer free case evaluations and hope that you will take the opportunity to contact our offices today regarding your manslaughter charges. We want to hear your side of the story.


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