Most people are familiar with the term “manslaughter.” It refers to the unlawful killing of another person. But what makes a crime manslaughter rather than murder?
In South Carolina, as in many states, the distinction turns on criminal intent. Murder requires “malice aforethought” – essentially, an intent to kill someone or cause serious bodily harm, whether that intent was formed months or milliseconds before the act occurred.
Manslaughter involves a lesser intent. The law establishes two kinds of manslaughter:
- Voluntary manslaughter (called simply “manslaughter” in the statute), which requires provocation and heat of passion. The victim must have provoked the killer in some way – for example, by physically assaulting them. The killer must have acted in the heat of the moment rather than a preformed intent.
- Involuntary manslaughter, which involves a death caused by criminal negligence. The term “criminal negligence” refers to a reckless behavior that disregards others’ safety. That behavior itself doesn’t have to be a crime.
Both types of manslaughter are felonies. A conviction can result in up to 30 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and up to five years for involuntary.
Are there any defenses?
Depending on the circumstances, there may be any number of defenses to manslaughter charges, both voluntary and involuntary. Examples include:
- Defense of others
- Accidental actions
- Emergency circumstances
- Mistaken identity
South Carolina also has a “stand your ground” law, which makes it a defense if the victim was burglarizing the defendant’s home or vehicle. Much depends on the circumstances of each case, however. Talk to a lawyer about your situation.