What is the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter?

The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter revolves around intent. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when, in the heat of the moment, the defendant knew he was going to hurt someone but did it anyway. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the defendant had no intention of hurting someone, but wound up killing the victim as a result of negligence or recklessness. Manslaughter differs from murder in that the latter involves premeditation.

While Florida Statutes do not differentiate between involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, whether the manslaughter is involuntary or voluntary can certainly influence the judge’s decision and sentencing.

Manslaughter convictions can result in decades or even life in prison. If you have been charged with a violent crime such as manslaughter, call Goldman Wetzel in St. Petersburg and speak to one of our violent crime defense lawyers today: 727-828-3900.

How does Florida classify homicides?

The best way to grasp the legal difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is to understand how the legislature defines homicide. The state will categorize and prosecute a homicide, or the killing of a human being, according to the details surrounding the situation. Typically, someone charged with a homicide in Florida will face one of the following four charges: 

Manslaughter: Florida Statute § 782.07(1) defines manslaughter as “the killing of a human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence of another, without lawful justification.” The state defines “culpable negligence” as a disregard for human life while engaging in wanton or reckless behavior.

Voluntary: The court will consider manslaughter voluntary when the homicide was 1) intentional, and 2) occurred amid provocation. Crimes of passion, bar fights, and domestic disputes often fall under this category.

Involuntary: The court will consider manslaughter involuntary when the defendant had no intent to kill, but accidentally or inadvertently killed someone as a result of negligent, careless, or dangerous behavior. Accidentally firing a gun and killing someone is an example of involuntary manslaughter.

Manslaughter, irrespective of whether it is voluntary or involuntary, is a second-degree felony in Florida. 

Aggravated manslaughter: If the victim was an elderly person, disabled adult, minor, law enforcement officer, EMT, or firefighter, the crime is aggravated manslaughter, a first-degree felony.

Vehicular/vessel homicide: Florida also has distinct charges for vehicular homicide and vessel homicide resulting from reckless operation of a car or boat, or from the defendant failing to render aid (i.e., a hit and run). Under Florida Statute § 782.071, these types of homicides may be a first- or second-degree felony, depending on the situation.

Murder: Murder involves intent and premeditation. In other words, the defendant planned and carried out the killing purposefully. Florida Statute § 82.04(1)(a) defines murder as, “the unlawful killing of a human being when perpetrated from a premeditated design to effect the death of the person killed or any human being; when committed by a person engaged in” a felony such as robbery or kidnapping; or when the death resulted from the unlawful distribution of any controlled substance.

Depending on whether the defendant had a “depraved mind,” the crime may be first- or second-degree murder and result in life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 

What are the penalties for manslaughter in Florida?

As a second-degree felony in Florida, the penalties for manslaughter include:

  • Up to 15 years’ imprisonment;
  • Up to 15 years’ probation; and
  • Up to $10,000 in fines.

If the manslaughter is upgraded to aggravated manslaughter, then the potential imprisonment term doubles to 30 years.

What are some defenses to manslaughter charges? 

Manslaughter defenses may be affirmative or negative. In cases of actual innocence, we might be able to prove mistaken identity or the defendant’s alibi.

Affirmative defenses, on the other hand, may involve proving the homicide was justifiable, the result of self-defense, or a complete accident not caused by negligence.

In some cases, we can question the veracity of the evidence brought against our clients, prove gaps in the prosecutor’s case, and show that the defendant was wrongly accused or arrested.

The best defense strategy for any manslaughter case is contingent on the circumstances surrounding the crime. Speak to the attorneys at Goldman Wetzel to discuss your case. Our team has the legal background, determination, and skills to represent even the most difficult homicide cases. We can listen to your story, assess your options, and help you develop a smart strategy for your case.

Call our office in St. Petersburg for a free consultation: 727-828-3900.

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