Like the crime of murder (either first degree or second degree), manslaughter involves the taking of a person’s life. Unlike murder, though, the offense does not involve premeditation or the intentional killing of a victim. Manslaughter in the first degree, rather, involves a person “recklessly” causing the death of another. The crime is a serious offense under Washington law and the penalties for it can alter a defendant’s life forever. If you or a loved one is facing allegations of manslaughter, contact our talented homicide attorneys now to protect your freedoms.
What is First Degree Manslaughter?
The laws on manslaughter in the first degree are set forth in RCW 9A.32.060. This statute says that a person is guilty of the crime when:
- He or she “recklessly” causes the death of another person; or,
- He or she intentionally and unlawfully kills an unborn child by inflicting any injury upon the mother of such child.
According to RCW 9A.08.010, a person acts “recklessly” when:
- he or she knows of and disregards a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur, and
- his or her disregard of such a risk is a gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.
For manslaughter, the Supreme Court has held that recklessness involves disregarding a substantial risk that a death may occur.
Let’s look at an example. Joe is driving down a neighborhood street. The posted speed limit is 35 MPH. Joe is going 65 MPH and is texting. Joe fails to see a stop sign and a crosswalk ahead. He races through the intersection and strikes a pedestrian, killing the person.
Here, Joe acted recklessly. He knew, or reasonably should have known, that his speeding and texting created a risk that a death could occur. He also disregarded the risk by not slowing down or ceasing his texting. A reasonable person, in his situation, would not have conducted himself in a similar way. Joe, therefore, would be guilty of first degree manslaughter (although he could also be charged with vehicular homicide).
Because manslaughter does not require the specific intent to kill, there can be no attempted manslaughter.
What are the penalties?
Manslaughter in the first degree is a Class A felony. The crime is punishable by:
- a maximum state prison term of life in prison, and/or
- a maximum fine of $50,000.
Note, though, that most defendants without prior criminal history who are convicted of this offense will receive a prison term of between six and a half years to eight and a half years. For people with prior history, the sentence will be much longer.
Are Legal Defenses Available?
Criminal defense attorneys use several different legal strategies, or defenses, to challenge accusations of manslaughter. One example is that a defense lawyer may demonstrate to the judge or jury that the defendant was not acting recklessly. The attorney can make this showing by highlighting those facts that negate a finding that the accused was acting carelessly. An attorney may also show that:
- the defendant was incorrectly identified as the perpetrator;
- the defendant was somewhere else at the time of the death (alibi); or
- the police arrested the defendant as a result of an unlawful search or seizure.
Please know that a successful legal defense will require a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney. The talented criminal lawyers at Back & Askerov have the grit, determination, and prowess that makes all the difference. Our firm’s homicide lawyers have over 25 years of combined experience fighting for clients accused of manslaughter. They have the fortitude and passion to uphold your rights and defend your freedoms. Contact them now.