Involuntary vs Voluntary Manslaughter

In the criminal justice system, a person may be charged with Manslaughter if they cause the death of another person. This charge is different than Murder, which applies when the situation involves premeditation or malice aforethought. Yes, manslaughter is a form of murder, but the justice system views it as very different from a deliberate act that results in death.

There are two forms of Manslaughter charges, involuntary and voluntary. Both are felony criminal charges, but they carry different penalties and have a different set of circumstances leading up to the death of a victim.

  • Involuntary Manslaughter – when a murder occurs, but the suspect had no intention to kill
  • Voluntary Manslaughter – when a murder is committed in retaliation for a reasonable provocation as defined by the law

To illustrate the differences between involuntary and voluntary manslaughter, consider a few examples.


  1. The death occurred while the suspect was committing another felony, like burglary or robbery.
  2. A death occurred when the suspect caused a vehicle accident.


  1. You are under duress and in the heat of an argument and while provoked you kill someone at that time.
  2. A killing that occurs during mutual combat.

The court has discretion in placing charges for murder or manslaughter. The details and elements of anger, provocation, premeditation and timing all enter into that decision about which type of manslaughter will be charged when there is a killing.

Felony Manslaughter Charges

Felony Manslaughter carries tougher penalties for the convicted person. There will be fines and jail time, as there is with other felony convictions. A judge will look at the circumstances of the crime, and base sentencing on evidence that clarifies elements like aggravating and mitigating factors.

The penalties for voluntary manslaughter are considerably tougher than those for involuntary manslaughter. For example, an involuntary manslaughter charge that results when someone kills another person in a vehicle accident caused by their own negligent behavior is more of an unfortunate coincidence than a deliberate killing. While the negligent behavior exhibited by the driver is a crime, the actual murder was not premeditated or planned.

With Voluntary manslaughter charges, the suspect faces a much longer time in prison, higher fines and other penalties. This is viewed as a deliberate act, although not a premeditated murder. Since premeditation is normally a factor in a murder charge, most murder charges are not reduced to manslaughter and they bear much more severe penalties, including a possible death sentence.

Massachusetts Manslaughter Laws

The state of Massachusetts recognizes both types of manslaughter charges – involuntary and voluntary. The judge does have guidelines to follow, but any sentence will depend on the particular facts of each case.

There are many factors that can cause a person to kill someone else. Sometimes, the person committing murder believes it is justified, but the courts would disagree. Each case is unique, and the court will look closely at all evidence. Timing is one element of concern. If a person commits a murder in the heat of passion, they could be charged with manslaughter rather than murder. If however, someone was involved in a heated argument, got mad and left, and later returned with a weapon and killed someone, it most likely would be charged as a murder and not manslaughter. They had time to cool off, but also to think about (premeditate) how to get back at that other person.

Who the person is can be another factor in any decision about criminal charges. If they are related to the person who was killed, it could be that there were emotions that interfered with judgment. One key in deciding whether to charge someone with manslaughter is reasonable provocation. Was there undue provocation leading up to the moment of killing? Was the suspect in some way a victim of harassment, unfair arrest tactics or attacked?

Sentencing Factors

Any special circumstances leading to the incident and death will be examined. If there are aggravating factors, the crime is viewed as more serious. Mitigating factors, such as provocation, allow the crime to be considered as less serious. Sentencing is done on an objective basis, without attention to certain factors that others may feel could be relevant, such as physical appearance of the subject or any previous head injury that might interfere with their ability to make a reasonable judgment.

Manslaughter Punishment

Generally, a conviction on voluntary manslaughter will get you at least three years, and up to 20 years in a state prison, along with high fines and possibly victim restitution. A conviction for involuntary manslaughter leads to a sentence of 10-16 months in prison, but that can be increased if the incident was due to recklessness. There is a minimum sentence when involuntary manslaughter is caused with a car.

Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you, a loved one or friend are accused of killing someone, it is essential to obtain an experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately. They will examine the case thoroughly and help you make important decisions about your case. They will have full understanding of state laws and the various charges that could be placed against you for manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary. They can argue to have charges reduced from murder to manslaughter and represent you at hearings, court trials and appeals.

Your Criminal Defense Attorney will compile a sound case to present to a jury or judge. They will act on your behalf to achieve the best possible results. If an appeal is needed, they will argue aggressively to get you the results you want, possibly a reduced charge or sentence. Do not hesitate to call for an appointment to discuss your case in confidence with an experienced Criminal Defense Manslaughter Lawyer.

Need Criminal Defense Help?

For a Federal or Criminal Consultation, text me today at 1-617-905-1433 or use the form below for your consultation. I will offer you expert help and answer any specific questions you have about your case. I handle criminal defense cases throughout all areas of Massachusetts including Boston, Cambridge, Newton, Springfield, Quincy, Lowell, Worcester, Fall River and national for Federal matters.

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