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What’s Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter? Manslaughter/Murder

What’s Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?

2 years ago by Justin M. Schiks
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Murder and manslaughter are different crimes. Murder is the intentional killing of a human being. Manslaughter does not involve the intent to kill. In Minnesota, a person can be charged with one of two types of manslaughter: involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter in Minnesota?

Voluntary manslaughter is the criminal act of intentionally causing another human being’s death. This means a person is accused of doing something or not doing something to cause the victim to die. For example, voluntary manslaughter in Minnesota is called the heat of passion.

The heat of passion killing occurs when a person is provoked by a situation such as finding their spouse having sex with someone else. They kill the spouse. They were provoked by emotions and did not intend to cause their spouse harm. Thus, they would be charged with voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.

Another example of voluntary manslaughter is unintentionally causing a victim’s death by selling, administering or giving away a controlled substance. The victim takes the controlled substance and dies. The person that sold or gave the victim the substance can be charged with voluntary manslaughter in Minnesota.

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What is Involuntary Manslaughter in Minnesota?

Involuntary manslaughter is the criminal act of causing a victim’s death because of gross negligence or reckless behavior. This means the person being charged had a total disregard for other people’s safety. The death may have been accidental, but because the person acted with reckless disregard, they can be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

One type of involuntary manslaughter is vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide occurs when a driver causes an accident that kills a victim or her unborn fetus because of total disregard for human life. For example, the driver was texting at the time of the accident or driving under the influence of alcohol.

A depraved heart is another type of involuntary manslaughter. In Minnesota, depraved heart murder is behavior so dangerous that the person would not have acted so badly if they didn’t have a depraved mind or heart. One example of this is the crime of walking into a crowd and shooting a gun in the air and killing someone. The person didn’t intend to kill anyone. However, they acted with a depraved heart because they wanted to see people fear for their lives.

Penalties for Manslaughter Crimes

The penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 15 years in prison. A person may have to pay a $30,000 fine. The penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years in prison. The person may have to pay a $20,000 fine, too. The actual sentence depends on any priors and the circumstances of the case.

Murder and Manslaughter: Learning More About the Differences

You can be charged with one of three different “degrees” of manslaughter in the State of Minnesota. Laws exist in the state for homicide convictions in various classifications. To further understand the punishments imposed for involuntary and involuntary manslaughter, it helps to learn more about the classifications involved in murder and manslaughter arrests and convictions.

In Minnesota, the crime of murder is categorized as First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, or Third Degree Murder. All of these classifications are considered felony offenses. However, the potential punishment will vary, depending on the degree of the charge.

While murder is defined as homicide with an intent to kill, manslaughter is less severe and defined as the unpremeditated killing of another person. It falls under one of two categories: either voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter classification.

An Example of Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter happens when another person is killed without premeditation, malice, or deliberation. For example, this type of killing may occur in the heat of passion. While the offender did mean to kill or inflict bodily harm, they did not premeditate the homicide. 

Voluntary manslaughter is usually referred to as second-degree murder. Second-degree murder is similar to first-degree murder but features certain mitigating circumstances. In this case, the offender may have been provoked or believed the killing was legally justified.

Examples of Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the accused party kills a person in a negligent manner. Also committed without premeditation, involuntary manslaughter is not done with any true intent to kill. However, fatality still occurs. 

Vehicular Homicides

Involuntary manslaughter may also be listed under the category of vehicular homicide. This type of killing results when a defendant is negligent while driving, which leads to an accident. Two types of criminal vehicular homicides are tried in Minnesota – one for unborn fetuses and one for human beings.

A vehicular homicide charge addresses reckless driving, drunk driving, or texting while driving. Also known as manslaughter in the second degree, this form of involuntary manslaughter covers incidents where the guilty party’s carelessness created an unreasonable risk.

Murder in the First Degree

First-degree murder is the most severe and terrible type of homicide in Minnesota, as it is in other states. This subcategorization means that not all murders are treated as first-degree murders when charges are filed. 

Aggravating circumstances are typically added to a case of a first-degree murder charge. The identification of the victim is usually the determining factor in cases that involve a first-degree murder charge. 

This type of killing frequently involves the intentional death of a person in authority or a known family member. Victims may include a spouse or child following prolonged episodes of domestic violence, or a police officer, a judge, or a witness to a crime. 

Murder in the First Degree can be prosecuted in cases involving sexual assault, burglary, aggravated robbery, abduction, arson, or terrorism. It may also be tried in cases involving a premeditated murder, when the offender contemplates, plots, or prepares for the killing beforehand.

If convicted of first-degree murder in Minnesota, the maximum sentence is life in prison without the possibility of parole. Again, intent to kill is required for the charge. It also requires calling a grand jury to review the case beforehand.

Murder in the Second Degree

While a second-degree murder may involve an intended killing, its penalty is less harsh than a first-degree murder conviction. When a person willfully murders another person, but the murder was not planned in advance, the crime might be classified as a second-degree murder instead. 

Killing on the spur of the moment or as the result of a strong emotional reaction might amount to second-degree murder. In addition, a second-degree murder charge may be brought in the event of a drive-by shooting, the execution of a crime, other than sexual assault, or the accidental killing of a person against whom an order of protection was issued. If convicted of second-degree murder, an offender may face up to 40 years in jail.


Murder in the Third Degree

The motive for this murder was not to kill. An allegation of murder in the third degree is typically brought forth because of a “depraved heart.” This sort of crime can occur, for instance, when a person shoots a gun in a crowded area but doesn’t mean to murder anybody specifically. 

A person is guilty of third-degree murder if they distribute substandard drugs as well. Killing someone may get you up to 25 years in jail. A maximum fine of $40,000 may be imposed if the death was caused by the distribution of a Schedule I or II narcotic.


Murder Committed Willfully

If the defendant’s murder was precipitated by a severe emotional response, then voluntary manslaughter charges, rather than murder charges, may be brought against them. Again, a “crime of passion” is a common term for this situation. 

The distribution of a Schedule III, IV, or V-restricted drug, which results in the death of another person, is another circumstance that might lead to this conviction. 

Murder Without Provocation

Negligent homicide lies at the heart of the definition of involuntary manslaughter. This type of killing might happen if a hunter accidentally kills a person because they thought they were a game animal, such as a deer. 

If a child dies because of negligence, the perpetrator might face involuntary manslaughter charges. This crime, as noted, is also the basis for charging a defendant with vehicular murder when the defendant’s careless driving leads to a fatality.

Manslaughter Defenses

Possible justifications for not being found guilty of murder or manslaughter are case-specific. If the victim attacked the defendant and the defendant retaliated in kind to protect themselves, they may have a valid self-defense claim. If the accused did not commit the murder, then the defense of innocence applies. 

Other defenses, such as drunkenness or self-defense but with excessive force, may not exonerate the offender entirely but may lessen the severity of the charges against them.

Differentiating Between Accidental and Intentional Killings

Again, an inadvertent or unintended killing constitutes involuntary manslaughter. 

Murder committed intentionally, but out of passion or anger, is considered voluntary manslaughter. Some people use the term “provoked homicide” to describe this situation.

Contact JS Defense for Legal Assistance

A criminal charge of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter can result in serious penalties such as prison time. This is not a time to hope for the best and fear the worst. We understand the seriousness of criminal charges. We have helped numerous clients facing a manslaughter charge achieve outcomes in their favor at trial. If you or your loved one is being charged with a manslaughter crime near St-Paul or Woodbury, MN, contact us.



Award-winning criminal defense attorney with a proven track record of dismissals, acquittals, and positive resolutions for his clients. For over a decade, Justin has dedicated himself to criminal and DWI defense. He has advocated for individuals through every step of a case, from pre-charge representation through pretrial hearings and trials.


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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Justin M. Schiks who has more than 20 years of legal experience as a personal injury attorney.

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