The charge of manslaughter is a very serious offense. Someone’s death may be attributable to your actions. The penalties can be costly, extensive, and extremely detrimental to all involved. Our firm contains skilled and experienced attorneys who will seek to provide the best possible outcomes of any charges that have been levied against you.
Our goal is to help you understand the nature of the charges that have been brought against you, provide the best possible defense, and help you to understand how to comply with the law in the future.
If you or a loved one has been federally charged for manslaughter, please call us now. Our attorneys are experienced and can help you understand the charges being brought against you.
What is “Manslaughter?”
Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of another without malice.4 In other words, you caused someone’s death and did not intend for death to occur to that person.
Manslaughter can happen anywhere at any time. Even an organization can be charged with crimes of federal manslaughter. For example, BP Exploration and Production, Inc., was charged with 11 counts of manslaughter. Supervisors at Deepwater Horizon acted negligently, and it led to disaster.
This disaster led to the deaths of 11 individuals. The company was ordered to pay over 4 billion dollars in restitution and penalties and received 5 years of probation. The company will be under stricter scrutiny for the foreseeable future.
Manslaughter is broken up into two categories:
- Voluntary; and
What is “Voluntary Manslaughter?”
Voluntary manslaughter, as defined by the US Code, is that someone’s death results from a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.5 If you are angry with someone and have some sort of physical altercation that results in death, then this will be considered voluntary manslaughter.
During a discussion with a coworker, a disagreement becomes very heated. You shove the coworker out of frustration, and they tumble down a set of stairs. The coworker is severely injured and eventually dies. You made an intentional action towards your coworker, knowing that offense or injury was likely to occur. However, you did not intend for your coworker to die. This is voluntary manslaughter.
A federal conviction of voluntary manslaughter can result in substantial fines, up to 15 years in prison or both.
What is “Involuntary Manslaughter?”
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as causing the death of another during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or the commission of an act in an unlawful manner, or without due caution or circumspection, of a lawful act which might produce death.
This means that you can be charged with manslaughter, even if you had no intention to kill or even harm someone else. These laws are intended to prevent individuals from acting “recklessly” and “negligently.” (Keep reading for more on these two terms.)
Therefore, it is very important to ensure your actions and decisions do not pose risks of serious injury or death to another person. Our team is dedicated to helping you identify these risks and take steps to minimize these risks as much as possible.
Manslaughter can be broken up into 3 smaller categories:
- the death of a person while committing a non-felonious crime;
- acting in an unlawful manner that results in the death of another person;
- committing a lawful act in a negligent or reckless manner that results in the death of another person.
See below for a description of each of these categories.
- Death of a person while committing a non-felonious crime. A death that results from driving under the influence will likely be involuntary manslaughter. However, be aware that many states have the option to treat repeat offenses as a felony, and death in that situation could result in charge of 1st-degree murder.
- Acting in an unlawful manner that results in the death of another person. A death that results from ignoring federal safety regulations will be involuntary manslaughter. Again, this can change the nature of the charge and the grievousness of the offense. Ignoring certain safety regulations or other issues could be viewed as having a “wanton and reckless disregard for life,” which would result in a murder charge.
- Committing a lawful act in a negligent or reckless manner that results in the death of another person. To better understand this subcategory, recklessness and negligence need to be defined. (See below)
A federal conviction of voluntary manslaughter can result in substantial fines, up to 8 years in prison or both.
What is “Recklessness?”
A reckless person is someone who “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk” and taking the risk is a “gross deviation” from what a law-abiding citizen would do in the same situation. To put it simply, an individual will be viewed as reckless when they decide to act while aware of the risk that their actions might cause harm to another.
A person ignores crosswalk signs while operating a vehicle. This person ends up striking and killing a pedestrian while using the crosswalk. The operator of the vehicle was aware of the risk that by ignoring crosswalk signs that a pedestrian using the crosswalk could be hit and death could result. Therefore, this is acting recklessly and would be a form of involuntary manslaughter.
What is “Negligence?”
A negligent person is defined as someone who “should be aware of the substantial and unjustifiable risk” and taking the risk is a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would do in the same situation. In other words, a person is acting negligently when they are taking risks that they ought to have known.
A maintenance technician discovers that the emergency exit door is unable to be opened and decides to ignore the issue. Later, a wiring issue causes a fire in the building. Due to some people not being able to exit the building because the emergency exit door is jammed, they are substantially injured, and a few people die.
The maintenance technician acted negligently since he should have been aware of the risk that an emergency exit door being jammed could result in substantial injury or death during an emergency. This is another example of involuntary manslaughter.
When will manslaughter be considered a federal crime?
Most of the time, manslaughter is a crime that falls under a specific state’s jurisdiction. However, there are some situations in which the federal government will investigate and prosecute a crime of manslaughter.
In 18 U.S.C. §1112, it defines manslaughter and states when the federal government will have jurisdiction over a case. It states that it will have jurisdiction over a manslaughter case when it is in the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
If manslaughter happens on the high seas, or within territories of the US, or on the tribal reservations then the US has full jurisdiction over those cases. However, there are other times when the US can have jurisdiction over a case of manslaughter.
Here are some ways that manslaughter can be considered a federal crime:
- Death results over a body of water or on the high seas.
- Death results while on a tribal reservation.
- Death results in one of the territories of the US.
- Death results while crossing state lines.
- Death results from a non-felonious criminal activity that occurs across state lines.
- Death of a federal official or representative, federal law enforcement officer, or the family member of such an individual.
- Death of a federal judge or juror.
- Death of a witness to prevent testimony or in retaliation for their testimony.
- Death results from conspiracy to commit a non-felonious crime.
This list is not all-inclusive. Feel free to call us for a legal consultation today, and we can provide you with a better understanding of the law concerning manslaughter.
Who investigates manslaughter as a federal crime?
The federal agency that is involved with the investigation of federal crimes involving manslaughter is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). However, depending on the nature of the case, other federal agencies may be involved.
Also, the FBI usually works with local and state police departments with most of their investigations. Most arrests for manslaughter as a federal crime are the result of coalition efforts of local and state police departments with the FBI.
In the US, thousands die every year from manslaughter.1 In 2016, there were almost 20,000 homicides. This statistic includes murder, manslaughter, and justifiable homicide victims. Roughly 75 percent of these homicides were connected to the use of a firearm.
Manslaughter Crimes In the News
Man sentenced to 3 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter for the death of a passenger.
Charge: Involuntary Manslaughter
Allegation: A man driving while intoxicated crashed and killed his passenger.
In 2018, a man was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter. A man crashed his vehicle and killed his passenger while on an Indian Reservation.
According to the DOJ press release, Saswaen Waukechon was sentenced to 3 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release. Waukechon drove his vehicle out onto the ice over Legend Lake and crashed into a bridge while on the Menominee Indian Reservation. The crash resulted in significant vehicle damage and the death of Waukechon’s passenger.
A federal investigation revealed that Waukechon was substantially intoxicated with blood alcohol more than twice the legal limit. Judge Griesbach indicated that he hoped the harsh sentence for Waukechon would deter others from repeating Waukechon’s actions.
Man pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter for his actions during a sailing trip that resulted in his wife’s death.
Charge: Involuntary Manslaughter
Allegation: A man acted with gross negligence while sailing that resulted in the death of his wife.
In 2018, a man pled guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The man went on an extended sailing trip with his wife and through a series of negligent actions, caused her death.
According to the DOJ press release, Lewis Bennett and his wife, Isabella Hellman, were sailing from the island St. Maarten to Florida. Bennett had extensive sailing experience and was certified, but his wife was not certified and had limited experience.
During one evening, Bennett left his wife in control of the vessel while Bennett slept. Bennett was awoken by a loud noise. Bennett could not locate his wife but did not use any methods to locate her. Bennett climbed into a life raft since the vessel was now inoperable. He gathered various belongings and then radioed the Coast Guard about his wife’s disappearance. The time between when Bennett learned his wife was missing and his radioing for support was 45 minutes.
A large rescue search was put forth for Hellman, but her body was not found. No other sources indicate that she is alive. She is presumed dead.
Bennett was subsequently arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter on the high seas. Bennett had the knowledge and experience and knew the risks that could happen to someone aboard a vessel who did not have such knowledge and experience. His negligence led to the death of Hellman.
He pled guilty to the charges approximately 9 months after his arrest. He is awaiting sentencing which could be up to 8 years in prison.
Man sentenced to 25 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter for killing a tribe member of the Yakama Nation.
Charge: Voluntary Manslaughter, Assault with Intent to Commit Murder, and Discharge of a Firearm in a Crime of Violence.
Allegation: A man shot and killed another man on the Yakama Reservation.
In 2018, a member of the Yakama nation was sentenced to 25 years in prison with 5 years of supervised release for his actions that resulted in the death of another member of the Yakama Nation, and the severe injury to another member.
According to the DOJ press release, Deryk Alexander Donato shot another member of the Yakama Nation in front of the victim’s home. Donato fled the scene, but witnesses were able to give investigators enough information to identify Donato.
While fleeing, Donato attempted to carjack a vehicle and shot the driver of the vehicle in the shoulder during the attempt. This victim was also a member of the Yakama Nation.
Investigators found out through acquaintances of Donato, that Donato had been seen taking a rifle. When questioned as to what Donato was doing with the rifle, it was stated that they would find out the next day what he planned. Donato had given some rounds of ammunition to some of his associates. Investigators were able to use the ammunition to tie Donato to the crimes.
Donato was arrested and charged with multiple crimes. After conviction, he was sentenced to over 25 years in the aggregate, with an additional 5 years of supervised release. The judge indicated that he did not believe Donato would ever comply with the law.
I have been federally charged for a crime of manslaughter. What should I do?
Federal charges of manslaughter are very grievous. Depending on the charge they can result in substantial fines and up to 15 years in prison. They can cause detriment to you and your loved ones. It is crucial that you have the best legal defense who will represent your best interests.
Our team has represented individuals just like you and have the proper knowledge and experience to provide you with excellent legal representation. We understand how difficult and daunting federal charges of manslaughter can be. If you are facing these charges, you should have an experienced team of legal professionals who will work for you and your loved one’s’ best interest.
If you, your loved one, or even your organization is facing federal criminal charges of manslaughter, please call our offices today for a free legal consultation. We want to help you through this entire process.
Call us today for your free legal consultation!