Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

Voluntary vs Involuntary Manslaughter

The basis for the difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is the intention in killing. The crime of Manslaughter involves an unlawful killing but without any evil intention to commit the act of killing. Thus, like murder, it is an unlawful killing but with the absence of a mental element in the commission of the crime. Manslaughter does not contain a prior plan or scheme to commit the unlawful killing of a person. Therefore, it is not premeditated. Manslaughter is often divided into two categories, Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter. The distinction between the two categories is sometimes not clear and therefore tends to confuse many. However, an understanding of what falls within the purview of each category will help to illustrate the difference between the two.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary Manslaughter commonly refers to a killing committed in the “heat of passion”. This means that the act was not pre-planned or plotted before, but the circumstances that led up to the act caused serious emotional distress such as rage or fear. These circumstances provoked the killer to commit the crime. “Heat of passion” crimes are best illustrated by situations such as a spouse caught in the act of adultery or a drunken fight between two persons that leads to a violent act causing death. Some definitions introduce it as an intentional killing wherein the perpetrator had no pre-planned intent to kill the other person but at that particular moment intended on inflicting serious bodily harm or causing death. This mental element is often accompanied by other surrounding circumstances that help reduce or lessen the severity of the charge. Simply put, Voluntary Manslaughter constitutes crimes committed in the heat of the moment due to certain circumstances that would cause serious emotional or mental distress. The impulse to strike at that moment is often judged by the standards of reasonableness wherein the court determines whether a reasonable person in such circumstances would have reacted in a similar way.

Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

Street fight can lead up to voluntary manslaughter

What is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary Manslaughter, however, refers to an unlawful killing but without any mental element whatsoever. Thus, it does not include crimes committed in the heat of the moment. Involuntary Manslaughter consists of death that results from a negligent act or a failure to exercise the legal duty of care. In the case of Involuntary Manslaughter, the person committing the unlawful killing did not intend to cause bodily harm or even kill the victim. Many jurisdictions categorize Involuntary Manslaughter into different types and these differ among each jurisdiction. For example, some jurisdictions will further divide Involuntary Manslaughter into either constructive manslaughter also known as unlawful act manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter, or criminally negligent manslaughter. Think of Involuntary Manslaughter as a situation in which a person commits an unlawful or reckless act and as a result of that act kills another person. For example, A is driving under the influence of alcohol and is heavily intoxicated. Further, A is driving at a high speed. A does not see B crossing the road. Unknowingly and without any intention, A knocks B down, killing B instantly. A will then be charged with the crime of Involuntary Manslaughter. This crime illustrates the guilty party’s negligence, recklessness or failure to exercise a legal duty of care.

What is the difference between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?

• Voluntary Manslaughter has an element of intention in that the guilty party intended to cause serious harm to the other person at that particular moment.

• Involuntary Manslaughter involves an unlawful killing that is committed without any intention.

• The crime of Voluntary Manslaughter is committed in the heat of the moment owing to certain circumstances that provoked the guilty party to inflict harm.

• Involuntary Manslaughter is often committed due to the guilty party’s negligent behaviour, recklessness or failure to exercise a legal duty of care.


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