Any time one person takes the life of another, a homicide has occurred. While not every act of homicide is criminal—self defense or military combat, for example—intentional deaths or accidental deaths resulting from criminally negligent acts are prosecuted as felonies.
Murder, which may be charged as either first degree or second degree murder, is often marked by intent. Manslaughter, on the other hand, may occur as a result of criminal negligence or rash actions in the heat of passion.
Although the penalties for a manslaughter conviction are often less severe than those associated with a murder conviction, they are still significant and life-altering. First degree manslaughter, for example, carries a minimum sentence of four years in prison. While that term is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the life without parole possible in a first degree murder conviction, being separated from one’s children, family, and friends for a span of four years or more can be devastating.
If you are criminally charged with an unintentional death, you must act quickly to secure competent and effective criminal defense counsel. View our record of success to see how we have been able to help people just like you.
Like other serious felony offenses, manslaughter charges are separated by degrees. In an unintentional killing, the person whose actions resulted in the death of another person may be charged with first degree manslaughter, second degree manslaughter, or negligent homicide, depending upon the specific circumstances of the death.
First degree manslaughter is defined in 21 O.S. § 711, and it occurs when a death results from one of three specific criteria:
Manslaughter charges are charged instead of murder charges when specific actions committed “without a design to effect death” claim the life of another person. These words separate manslaughter from the “malice aforethought” or “imminently dangerous” actions “evincing a depraved mind” stipulated in first and second degree murder charges.
Furthermore, not all deaths perpetrated in an attempt to resist a crime constitute self-defense. Justifiable homicide occurs when a person kills another who is posing an imminent risk to one’s own life or safety. Homicide in defense of property, or when use of lethal force is excessive and unnecessary to prevent the crime, would likely be criminally charged as first degree manslaughter.
In the subsequent statute, Oklahoma law states that an intoxicated physician who provides treatment that results in the death of the patient is also charged with first degree manslaughter.
The minimum penalty for first degree manslaughter is four years in the state penitentiary.
Second degree manslaughter is a catch-all offense defined in 21 O.S. § 716. This statute allows second degree manslaughter charges for any killing that is not encompassed by the laws pertaining to murder, first degree manslaughter, excusable homicide, or justifiable homicide. An example of second degree manslaughter could include a fatal dog attack, if the owner of the dog knew that the animal was violent but failed to keep it appropriately restrained.
Like first degree manslaughter, second degree manslaughter is a felony. However, rather than a minimum of four years in prison, it carries a minimum of two years and a maximum of four.
Negligent homicide is not defined under the state’s criminal code, but rather the Oklahoma motor vehicle code. In 47 O.S. § 11-903, state law says that if a reckless driver causes an accident, and a person dies of injuries sustained in the accident within one year of its occurrence, the person whose recklessness caused the accident may be charged with negligent homicide. Negligent homicide is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 (up to $2,000 if the driver has any traffic convictions within three years prior to the accident), mandatory defensive driver course, and the revocation of the driver’s license.
A driver in a fatal DUI accident would not be charged with negligent homicide; rather, he or she would likely be charged with first degree manslaughter.
Knowing you have caused the death of another can leave you feeling sick, sad, and overburdened with grief. Adding criminal charges on top of the intense emotion you are already feeling can make a difficult situation seem impossible to overcome. We want you to know that there is hope, and we can help. Call (405) 608-4990 to talk to us about your case. Or visit our homepage for more information.