Although it is not at the level of murder, manslaughter is a very serious crime to be charged with. In fact, many prosecutors will be perfectly happy with a manslaughter conviction if they can get one since murder is somewhat hard to prove. The main difference between manslaughter and murder is that murder usually requires some kind of planning or intent, while manslaughter is more spontaneous. Like murder, manslaughter can further be broken down into voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
In Utah, voluntary manslaughter is simply referred to as manslaughter, and conduct that would be called involuntary manslaughter under common law or in other states is called negligent homicide. These crimes have different requirements for conviction, so it is important to know the difference if you or a loved one are facing manslaughter or negligent homicide charges in Utah.
For help with your case, call our Utah criminal defense lawyers from Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 for a free case review.
The Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter in Utah
Voluntary and Involuntary manslaughter are terms that exist at what is called “Common Law.” Common Law is the law that is created based on prior decisions in the legal system rather than a statute or code that is written down. These laws trace their lineage back to England.
At common law, voluntary manslaughter is the intentional killing of another person with “adequate provocation.” The most common example of adequate provocation is someone walking in on their partner being unfaithful and then becoming so enraged that they kill their partner on the spot.
Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is causing the death of another through negligence. An example of this would be driving drunk – a form of negligence – and then hitting and killing a pedestrian.
Many state codes and bodies of law use different terms than what is used at Common Law. Accordingly, “voluntary manslaughter” and “involuntary manslaughter” are not present in Utah statutes. However, there are statutes that criminalize conduct that would be considered voluntary or involuntary manslaughter at Common Law.
Voluntary Manslaughter in Utah
In Utah, conduct that can be characterized as voluntary manslaughter is laid out under Utah Code § 76-5-205(2)(c) and is simply called “manslaughter.” Under this law, it is manslaughter in Utah if the perpetrator does something that would otherwise be murder, except that it is reduced under Utah Code § 76-5-203(4).
Involuntary Manslaughter in Utah
Conduct that would be considered involuntary manslaughter is called negligent homicide in Utah and is defined under Utah Code § 76-5-206 as causing the death of another through criminal negligence. Criminal negligence is itself defined in Utah Code § 76-2-103(4) as partaking in conduct where the individual ought to be aware that their conduct is likely to cause serious harm or death. Again, such conduct must deviate from normal, reasonable behavior that an ordinary person would do. An example of conduct that may be considered negligent homicide would be giving a dessert treat that has a good chance of containing nuts to somebody with a life-threatening nut allergy, totally unaware of the potentially deadly meal you have just given them.
Penalties for Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter in Utah
Manslaughter and negligent homicide have different penalties in Utah. Manslaughter is the more serious charge, so the penalties are, naturally, more severe than those for negligent homicide. That being said, being convicted of either of these crimes is not good, so it is best to consult with our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers to find the best solution for you.
(Voluntary) Manslaughter Penalties in Utah
Manslaughter is considered a second-degree felony in Utah. Per Utah Code § 76-3-203, felonies in the second degree can be punished with prison terms of at least one year and no more than 15 years.
There are some circumstances that could increase the sentencing term of a manslaughter felony. Under Utah Code § 76-3-203.7, an individual convicted of a second-degree felony – like manslaughter – can have their prison term increased if the crime is carried out with the use of dangerous weapons or body armor. “Dangerous weapons” refers to anything that is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury under Utah Code § 76-1-105.5. Not only does this include the weapons themselves, but it also includes copies or “dummy” versions of those weapons. So a firearm will be considered a dangerous weapon, but so too will a prop gun or an airsoft pellet gun if they are used in such a way as to make the victim think they are firearms or are used in such a way as to cause serious bodily injury.
Body armor is defined under § 76-3-203.7 as any material “designed” or intended to provide protection against bullets or other dangerous weapons (such as knives). This includes both purpose-built things like Kevlar or ceramic plates but also could include homemade steel sheets someone decided to strap onto their chest.
If manslaughter is carried out using dangerous weapons or while wearing body armor, the minimum sentence is increased to two years, and the maximum is increased to not more than 15 years.
Negligent Homicide/Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties in Utah
Negligent homicide is a Class A misdemeanor in Utah. Under Utah Code § 76-3-204, Class A misdemeanors are punishable by a maximum of 364 days in prison.
Since negligent homicide is a misdemeanor, there are no felony enhancements for using a dangerous weapon or wearing body armor. However, the use of either of those things would likely indicate a higher level of intentionality, so the crime you are likely to be charged with under those circumstances has a good chance of being more serious than negligent homicide.
Can Manslaughter Be Lowered to Negligent Homicide in Utah
In many cases, a deal can be made with prosecutors to have charges lowered to something less serious than what you were initially charged with. Some plaintiffs may be wondering whether this can happen in manslaughter cases. The answer is that charges can be lowered under some circumstances. It is not uncommon for the prosecution to offer plea deals to a defendant. This happens for a number of reasons, but the most common is that it expedites the always-busy legal system, encourages cooperation from defendants, and eases the workload of the prosecution office. For example, our lawyers can work with the prosecution to try and get manslaughter charges lowered to the level of negligent homicide.
Talk with Our Utah Manslaughter Defense Lawyers Today
To get a free case review, call Overson Law’s West Jordan criminal defense lawyers at the number (801) 758-2287.