New York Manslaughter Charges Explained

If you have ever watched any TV show or movie about crime, you are probably familiar with the terms “voluntary manslaughter” and “involuntary manslaughter.” In the simplest terms, manslaughter is conduct that causes someone else’s death, without intending to cause death. Common law jurisdictions (not New York) classify manslaughter charges as either Voluntary Manslaughter or Involuntary Manslaughter.

Difference Between Voluntary Manslaughter and Involuntary Manslaughter Explained

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary Manslaughter applies to situations where the actor intended to hurt the victim, but not to cause death. In voluntary manslaughter situations, there is no prior intent to kill. An example of conduct that would be prosecuted as a voluntary manslaughter is you coming home and finding your spouse in bed with her lover, then punching him once and causing his death. Although you had every intent to hurt him, you didn’t have the intent to cause his death. That situation would constitute voluntary.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary Manslaughter is charged in situations where the actor does not intent for the victim to due. Rather, the actor engages in conduct that is reckless or negligent, and results in someone’s death. For example, Let’s say you drive with twice the legal alcohol limit in your system, and cause a head-on collision with another vehicle, as a result of which the driver of the other vehicle dies. While you had absolutely no intention to cause the other driver’s death, you engaged in reckless conduct, which posed a risk of endangering other lives.

New York Manslaughter Charges

New York does not classify Manslaughter Charges as “Voluntary Manslaughter” and “Involuntary Manslaughter.” Rather, New York Manslaughter Charges are divided into Manslaughter in the First Degree (intent to cause serious physical injury, and causing death) and Manslaughter in the Second Degree (recklessly causing the death of another). New York Penal Law contains the following Manslaughter Charges:

The difference in these New York Manslaughter charges is explained below.

Manslaughter in the Second Degree

New York Manslaughter in the Second Degree charge is codified in New York Penal Law 125.15. This charge requires that you recklessly cause the death of another. Under New York Penal Law 125.15, a person is guilty of Manslaughter in the Second Degree when s/he:

  1. Recklessly causes the death of another person; OR
  2. Commits upon a female an abortional act which causes her death, unless such abortional act is justifiable, OR
  3. Intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide.

What is the Definition of Recklessly in New York Manslaughter in the Second Degree Charge?

Definition of the term “Recklessly” comes from Article 15 of the New York Penal Law. Under Article 15, a person acts recklessly with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining offense when he is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. 

Penalties and Sentencing for Manslaughter in the Second Degree

New York Manslaughter in the Second Degree is a Class “C” Non-Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by up to 5 to 15 years in prison. The minimum sentence on Manslaughter in the Second Degree is 1 to 3 years incarceration.

Manslaughter in the First Degree

New York Manslaughter in the First Degree Charge applies to cases where the actor intended to cause serious physical injury to another person, but instead caused death. New York Manslaughter in the First Degree under Penal Law 125.20 has the following elements:

  1. With intent to cause serious physical injury to another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person; OR
  2. With intent to cause the death of another person, he causes the death of such person or of a third person under circumstances which do not constitute murder because he acts under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance; OR
  3. He commits upon a female pregnant for more than twenty-four weeks an abortional act which causes her death, unless such abortional act is justifiable; OR
  4. Being 18 years old or more and with intent to cause physical injury to a person less than 11 years old, the defendant recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of serious physical injury to such person and thereby causes the death of such person.

What is Extreme Emotional Disturbance for the Purpose of New York Manslaughter Charges?

Under New York Law, Extreme Emotional Disturbance is an affirmative defense that must be proven by the Defense. Defense must establish that the Defendant was acting under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance, for which there was a reasonable explanation or excuse. The reasonableness of that explanation or excuse is to be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the Defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the Defendant perceived them. There are three elements for the Affirmative Defense of Extreme Emotional Disturbance:

  1. First, the Defendant must have had an extreme emotional disturbance, that refused in a profound loss of self control.
  2. Second, there must be an explanation or excuse which made extreme emotional disturbance reasonable. The reasonableness of the explanation or excuse is determined from the viewpoint of a person in the Defendant’s situation under the circumstances as the Defendant believed them to be.
  3. Third, in committing the homicide, the Defendant was under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance. Extreme emotional disturbance cannot be removed in time from the homicide.

Penalties and Sentencing for Manslaughter in the First Degree

New York Manslaughter in the First Degree is a Class “B” Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by 5 to 25 years in prison.

Aggravated Manslaughter

New York also has separate charges for Manslaughter of Police Officers or Peace Officers, where the Officer was performing his or her official duties. These charges are Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree and Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second Degree. The difference between these two New York Manslaughter charges is the intent of the actor. If the intent is reckless, then the appropriate charge is Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second degree. If the intent is to intentionally cause serious physical injury, then the appropriate charge is Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree.

Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second Degree

Under New York Penal Law 125.21, a person is guilty of Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second Degree when he or she:

  1. Recklessly causes the death of a police officer or peace officer
  2. When such officer was in the course of performing his or her official duties, AND
  3. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that such victim was a police officer or peace officer.

Penalties and Sentencing for Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second Degree

Aggravated Manslaughter in the Second Degree is a Class “C” Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by 3 1/2 to 15 years in prison.

Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree

New York Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree charge is applicable to cases where the actor has the intent to cause serious physical injury to police officer or a peace officer.

Elements of Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree

New York Penal Law 125.22(1)

Under New York Penal Law Section 125.22(1), a person is guilty of Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree when:

  1. With intent to cause serious physical injury to a police officer or peace officer, AND
  2. When such officer was in the course of performing his or her official duties, AND
  3. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that such victim was a police officer or a peace officer, AND
  4. He or she causes the death of such officer or another police officer or peace officer.
New York Penal Law 125.22(2)

Under New York Penal Law Section 125.22(2), a person is guilty of Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree when:

  1. With intent to cause the death of a police officer or peace officer, AND
  2. When such officer was in the course of performing his or her official duties, AND
  3. The defendant knew or reasonably should have known that such victim was a police officer or peace officer, AND
  4. He or she causes the death of such officer or another police officer or peace officer under circumstances which do not constitute murder because he or she acts under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance.

Penalties and Sentencing for New York Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree

New York Aggravated Manslaughter in the First Degree is a Class “B” Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by 5 to 25 years incarceration.

Vehicular Manslaughter

New York has separate charges relating to the death of another occurring as a result of operating a motor vehicle. These charges are Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree and Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree. The difference between these charges is explained below.

Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree

The crime of Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree is codified in New York Penal Law 125.12. This charge requires causing the death of another person, AND:

  1. Operating a motor vehicle or a boat while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, which causes the death of another person; OR
  2. Operating a motor vehicle with a gross weight over 18,000 pounds which contains flammable gas, radioactive materials or explosives while impaired by use of alcohol, and causes the death of another person as a result of being impaired by alcohol; OR
  3. Operating a snowmobile or an all-terrain vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs, and as a result of such influence causing the death of another person.

Presumption Applicable to New York Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree Charge

There is a legal presumption for New York Vehicular charges that if the person operating a motor vehicle, a boat, a snowmobile or an ATV (any vehicles) caused a death while being unlawfully intoxicated or impaired by drugs, alcohol or combination of both, then it was presumed that they operated the vehicle in a manner that caused the death of another. However, that presumption is rebuttable – meaning, the defense is able to present evidence that contradicts it and overcomes it.

Penalties and Sentencing for Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree

New York Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree is a Class “D” Non-Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison. However, probation or a conditional discharge are authorized sentences for Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree.

Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree

Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree under New York Penal Law 125.13 requires that the commission of the crime of Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree and the presence of an aggravating factor. The following factors bump up Vehicular Manslaughter in the Second Degree to Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree:

  1. Commission of the crime while operating a motor vehicle with blood alcohol content (BAC) over .18; OR
  2. Commission of the crime while knowing that his or her license is suspended or revoked in any state for DWI or DWAI; OR
  3. Commission of the crime while knowing that his or her license is suspended or revoked based on a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer or another blood alcohol content chemical test; OR
  4. Commission of the crime and a previous conviction for DUI, DWAI, or DUI Drugs within the past 10 years; OR
  5. Commission of the crime and previous conviction for Assault involving a motor vehicle in the State of New York, or if in another state, conduct that would constitute a violation of New York law involving Assault with a motor vehicle; OR
  6. Causing the death of more than one person; OR
  7. Commission of the crime while a child who is 15 years old or younger is a passenger in such a vehicle and causes the death of such child.

Presumption Applicable to New York Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree Charge

Similarly to New York Vehicular Manslaughter Charge, the presumption that being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs led to the fatality is applicable to this New York Manslaughter charge. Once again, that presumption is rebuttable. That is, the Defense attorney can present contrary evidence to overcome that presumption.

Penalties and Sentencing for Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree

Under New York Law, Vehicular Manslaughter in the First degree is a Class “C” Non-Violent Felony. As such, this charge is punishable by up to 5 to 15 years in prison. However, probation is an authorized sentence for New York Vehicular Manslaughter in the First Degree.

Potential Defenses to New York Manslaughter Charges

If you are under investigation, or have been arrested for a New York Manslaughter charge, it is important that you exercise your right to remain silent and refuse to speak to the police. Regardless of whether they tell you that you will be helping your case and that they’ll communicate your desire to cooperate to the District Attorney.

The only person you should be discussing your case with is your attorney. Together, we will develop a cohesive defense strategy to put you in the best possible situation. Below are some of the frequently encountered defenses on New York Manslaughter charges. However, rather than rely on Google, you probably want to give us a call to set up a consultation to go over your case in detail.

Accident

New York Manslaughter charges require you to be reckless in your conduct or intend to cause serious physical injury to another individual. If you weren’t reckless or sought to cause serious physical injury to another, then you do not have the requisite mental state to commit manslaughter.

Let’s say you throw out a heavy garbage bag down the chute at your high rise. You follow all the instructions regarding waste disposal. As the garbage bag is going down the chute, the porter opens up the disposal on the bottom and your garbage bag strikes him and the porter dies. As your intent in disposing the garbage was neither intentional or reckless, you cannot be charged with Manslaughter because it was an accident.

Self Defense

If you were justified in using physical force, or deadly physical force against another, then you may raise a self-defense. Under New York Law, once the defense raises a defense of self or a defense of others, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to disprove this defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mistaken Identification

Unfortunately, the police make wrongful arrests. At trial, the prosecutor is required to prove that 1. a crime happened 2. the accused is the one who committed the crime. A defense of mistaken identification is raised in cases where the evidence falls short of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is the person who committed the crime.

Insufficient Evidence

Insufficient evidence applies to all types of issues with the case. In New York Manslaughter cases, the insufficient evidence defense could involve anything from bad identification to proving all the elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding New York Manslaughter Charges:

1. Is being drunk a defense to New York Manslaughter Charges?

Being intoxicated is generally not a defense to New York Manslaughter charges, if the intoxication was voluntary. That is to say, if you went to the bar, decided to have lots of drinks, then drove home and ran someone over, your intoxication was voluntary. If your intoxication was involuntary, i.e. your were forced to drink, you may have an intoxication defense, or at the very least a factor mitigating your guilt.

2. What is the Statute of Limitations on New York Manslaughter Charges?

The Statute of Limitations on New York Manslaughter charges is 5 years. However, the Statute of Limitations may be tolled if you leave the jurisdiction, cannot be found or are incarcerated.

3. What is the Likely Outcome of a New York Manslaughter Case?

Predicting an outcome of a criminal case is similar to reading tea leaves. Sometimes, you are right and other times you are completely off base. The potential outcomes of your case depend on:

  • Facts of the crime;
  • Presence of any mitigating circumstances;
  • Evidence against you;
  • Your prior criminal record;
  • Dismissal of the most serious charge either on motion practice or at trial.

While you can’t directly control what the outcome of your case will be, you can control who your attorney is. Contact us today and decide if you would like us to handle your New York Manslaughter case.

4. If I am charged with Murder, can I plead guilty to Manslaughter?

Yes. If you have been indicted for Murder, you can plead guilty to a Manslaughter charge, so long as the District Attorney offers a plea to Manslaughter for your case. Although a Judge can make you a plea offer (frequently called “Court Offer”), the Judge is only able to offer you the plea to the most serious charge on your Indictment. So if your top count is Murder, the Judge would be able to offer you a plea with Murder. Maybe with less time that what the District Attorney has been offering. However, a District Attorney can offer you a plea to a lesser charge on the Indictment, so long as they determine that it is the appropriate thing to do.

Contact Top Rated New York Manslaughter Defense Attorneys

If you or a loved one have been charged or are under investigation for New York Manslaughter charges, you need effective representation. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation.