What Is the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter in Pennsylvania?

by | Jan 25, 2023

The differences between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania involve both action and intent. Voluntary manslaughter is when you unjustifiably kill someone after provocation with criminal intent, while involuntary manslaughter occurs during an unlawful or criminally negligent act without criminal intent.

By contrast, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter offenses are both Criminal Homicide offenses.

Our Philadelphia manslaughter defense attorneys give you an overview of Pennsylvania’s manslaughter laws, a side-by-side view of voluntary vs. involuntary manslaughter offenses, types of manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter consequences if convicted. Shuttleworth Law PC wrote this post to help people facing involuntary manslaughter charges or their concerned family members.

Overview of Pennsylvania’s Manslaughter Laws

Manslaughter laws in PA fall under the broader category of Criminal Homicide offenses. Under this chapter, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can charge someone with voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and murder.

Manslaughter Is Criminal Homicide

The Criminal Homicide statute per 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 defines this offense as “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently” causing the death of another person. Manslaughter is then broken down into two separate crimes, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter Offense

Every criminal offense statute generally addresses two elements of a crime, including a) the alleged act and b) your intent. When examining the primary differences between voluntary vs. involuntary manslaughter charges, it is important to take note of action and intent.

Below, we have taken a side-by-side look at both offenses and explain their differences in terms of the relevant statute, act, intent, and possible conviction consequences:

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is a first-degree felony. Here is the overview of the relevant statute and criminal offense elements:

  • Relevant Statute: 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503
  • Act: Caused the death of another person without justification
  • Intent: No criminal intent, sudden or intense reaction caused by the provocation of the person killed or another you intended to kill
  • Possible conviction consequences: Up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines

A possible voluntary manslaughter defense is that your actions were justified for the given circumstances. To utilize this defense, you must follow the General Principles of Justification under Chapter 5 of the Crimes and Offenses Title.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor unless the alleged victim is 12 years or younger and in your care. In this case, it is a second-degree felony (F2).

Here is an overview of the relevant statute and criminal offense elements:

  • Relevant Statute: 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504
  • Act: Caused the death of another person as a direct result of a lawful or unlawful act
  • Intent: No criminal intent, reckless or gross negligence
  • Possible conviction consequences:
    • First-degree misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter: Up to five years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
    • Second-degree felony involuntary manslaughter: Up to ten years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

There are two types of involuntary manslaughter:

  • Type 1. Criminal negligence manslaughter: Applied when you kill someone while engaging in extremely risky acts. Example: Leaving a child in a hot vehicle and causing their death.
  • Type 2. Unlawful act manslaughter: Applied when you kill someone while engaging in illegal activity. Example: Practicing medicine without a license and offering treatments or advice that cause the death of another person.

Facing manslaughter charges is frightening, and anyone can commit this type of criminal activity. Ensure you protect your case by avoiding statements to police, prosecutors, or in the courtroom without your lawyer present.

Negligence Can Become Criminal Homicide

The element of negligence is typically addressed in matters involving a personal injury or wrongful death. However, this issue can also apply to criminal homicide charges as it speaks to your “state of mind,” also known as mens rea (mens ray-ah) in legal terms.

Below, we have shared two examples of when negligence can become criminal homicide in PA:

Example 1. Motor Vehicle Accidents

Criminal negligence usually occurs when an innocent person is killed. Automobile accidents are probably the most prominent example. If you fail to brake and rear-end the vehicle in front of you, police may issue you a reckless driving citation or ticket.

However, imagine that you are breaking the law with your vehicle,such as driving drunk, and recklessly plow through a stop sign, killing another person in the process. Driving under intoxication (DUI) is dangerously reckless and unlawful, even without intentionally causing an accident. This means you could face criminal charges like Homicide by Vehicle While DUI in Pennsylvania.

Example 2: Involuntary Offenses

Some criminal negligence elements focus on the seriousness of the resulting harm. Involuntary manslaughter charges may be filed if a person is killed because of these actions.

For example, three elements define involuntary manslaughter:

  1. A person died due to your actions.
  2. Your actions were either fundamentally dangerous to others or performed with reckless disregard for human life (gross negligence).
  3. You were aware that your actions threatened the lives of others.

In general, criminal law only punishes intentional acts, whereas civil law deals with harmful errors and accidents. However, even unintentional behavior can sometimes become so hazardous that it is considered a crime.

Consider investing in a criminal defense strategy like it is an investment in your future. A Pennsylvania manslaughter defense firm, like Shuttleworth Law PC, has the requisite time and resources that we can devote to your case.

A seasoned legal team understands the importance of giving your defense our full attention and dedication. We have cultivated nearly 20 years of trial experience in defending clients facing both felony and misdemeanor manslaughter charges. We want to put that same drive behind your case while supporting it with a personalized strategy.

Get My Free Case Evaluation with Shuttleworth Law PC

If you think Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers can help, get no-cost legal information as early as today. Schedule your Free Case Evaluation with Shuttleworth Law PC by calling (215) 774-1371 or messaging us online. Let us know if you prefer to meet via secure video conferencing at the time of making your appointment.

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