What Is Manslaughter?

The unlawful killing of a human being without malice or premeditation, either express or implied. Manslaughter is distinguished from murder in that there was no malicious intent.

The distinctions between manslaughter and murder can be seen in the following:

  • In the former, though the act which results in death is unlawful, malice, either express or implied, which is the very essence of murder, is presumed to be missing in manslaughter.
  • It also differs from murder in this, that there can be no accessories before the fact, there has been no time for premeditation.
  • Manslaughter is voluntary when it happens suddenly, or involuntary when it takes place in the commission of some unlawful act.

How Are Cases of Manslaughter Classified?

The cases of manslaughter may be classified as follow:

1. Provocation.

2. Mutual combat.

3. Resistance to public officers, etc.

4. Killing in the prosecution of an unlawful or wanton act.

5. Killing in the prosecution of a lawful act

6. Improperly performed or performed without lawful authority.

The provocation which reduces the killing from murder to manslaughter is an answer to the presumption of malice, which the law raises in every case of homicide. When express malice is proven, then murder has occurred. If the party has had time to cool, malice will be inferred.

Examples of Manslaughter

In cases of mutual combat, it is generally manslaughter only when one of the parties is killed. When death ensues from dueling, the ruling is different, and such killing is murder.

The killing of an officer by resistance to him while acting under lawful authority is murder; but if the officer is acting under a void or illegal authority, or out of his jurisdiction, the killing is manslaughter, or excusable homicide, according to the circumstances of the case.

Killing a person while doing an act of mere wantonness, is manslaughter. For example, if a person throws down stones in a coal-pit by which a man is killed, although the offender was only a trespasser, this is considered manslaughter.

When death ensues from the performance of a lawful act, it may, in consequence of the negligence of the offender, amount to manslaughter. For instance, if the death has been occasioned by negligent driving. Again, when death ensues, from the gross negligence of a medical or surgical practitioner, it is manslaughter.