Manslaughter and murder are closely related, though they have distinct legal definitions that separate them. It is important to understand the distinctions between the two charges, especially if you are facing either type of charge. Both are extremely serious crimes that can result in severe consequences, including state-imposed capital punishment if the charges involve a capital offense. While the information below is not an exhaustive exploration of the different elements of each crime, it does provide some basic information to help you understand the elements of each crime under as they would apply in a Birmingham, Alabama criminal case.
Manslaughter Charges in Alabama
While still a very serious crime, manslaughter is generally less serious in the eyes of the law than murder. While it still qualifies as a form of murder, a distinct difference separates it from the traditional understanding of murder and, thus, the law imposes less harsh penalties for those convicted of it. The major difference between manslaughter and murder is that manslaughter does not require intent. In other words, those charged with manslaughter generally do not have the required premeditated intent to cause a person’s death even though a person’s death may result from their actions.
There are generally two types of manslaughter in most states: voluntary and involuntary. Manslaughter is defined in the Code of Alabama §13A-6-3 as when a person:
- Recklessly causes the death of another person, or
- Causes the death of another person under circumstances that would constitute murder §13A-6-2; except that he causes the death due to a sudden heat of passion caused by provocation recognized by law, and before a reasonable time for passion to cool and for reason to reassert itself.
The first definition of manslaughter from state law refers to instances where a person’s reckless behavior causes the death of another person, and usually qualifies an action as involuntary manslaughter. An example might be death resulting from driving while under the influence. In Alabama, involuntary manslaughter may sometimes be referred to as criminally negligent homicide in certain circumstances.
The second definition of manslaughter from state law as noted above often refers to murder committed in the heat of passion. A common example used to explain this type of manslaughter is a spouse coming home and finding the other spouse in bed with someone else. The spouse that has caught the cheating spouse becomes enraged and kills the cheating spouse. While this crime is not excusable, it often occurs so immediately that there is little time for the spouse that is committing the murder to stop and reflect on their actions.
Murder in Alabama
The basic distinction with murder is that murder is a type of homicide that requires intent. In other words, to be charged with murder, a person would need to have a reasonable period of time to reflect on the potential consequences of their actions and still voluntarily choose to carry those actions out, and those actions result in the death of another. The Code of Alabama §13A-6-2 defines murder as the intentional death of another due to “extreme indifference to human life” or during the commission of certain crimes that result in the death of another person, like kidnapping or arson. There are several other possibilities for actions that may qualify as murder, including the death of a public safety officer as a result of the crime committed by the defendant.
There are various specific elements that prosecutors must prove for anyone to be convicted of almost any type of crime, including manslaughter and murder. Understanding the elements required to prove manslaughter or murder requires a great deal of attention to the facts of a given case and how the law applies to those facts. If you are facing charges related to manslaughter or murder, it is important that you seek the assistance of a criminal defense attorney that has experience handling these types of charges.