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Kevin O'Flaherty

This article will discuss how manslaughter is defined and charged in Illinois. We will answer the following questions:

  • What is considered manslaughter?
  • Are there different types of manslaughter?
  • What are the penalties in Illinois for manslaughter?
  • How can one defend against a charge of manslaughter?

Manslaughter is a term that everyone has heard, but few fully understand. It's often used interchangeably with reckless homicide, negligent homicide, voluntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter. While there is a lot of overlap between the terms, they all describe a different situation that could carry a charge of manslaughter. 

What Is Considered Manslaughter?

Perhaps the simplest way to think of manslaughter is when one person or entity performs an action or forgoes a duty that leads another person's death without justification. When considering the charge of manslaughter, the prosecutor must take into account if the defendant's actions were likely to result in the person's death and if the actions were reckless, negligent, and committed without the intent to kill. While manslaughter is often due to an "accident," it is still a serious crime with severe punishment, including jail time and fines. 

Illinois law requires the prosecution prove several elements be true to satisfy the charge of manslaughter; they include:

  • The defendant knew or should have reasonably known that his actions could have lead to the death of the other party;
  • The defendant's actions showed an apparent disregard for human life or were intrinsically dangerous; and
  • The defendant's actions or failure of duty were the direct cause of the other party's death

The defendant's side will often argue justification based on the circumstances. An unfortunate but all too common example is when one person discharges a firearm at another, resulting in death. There are examples when the behavior is justified, but questions arise when the other person was fleeing, or excessive force is used, such as when a person is shot multiple times. Often, these individuals will be charged with voluntary manslaughter, meaning they did not intend to kill the other person, but they committed a voluntary action.

Are There Different Types of Manslaughter?

Three different types of manslaughter exist:

  1. Voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter involves another person's death due to one's actions, but without malice and forethought. If two individuals with no history get into a fight at a bar and one "accidentally" kills the other, the prosecution will likely seek a voluntary manslaughter charge. However, if the two knew each other and the prosecution can prove that the defendant had talked about or plotted to kill the other, the charge would be elevated to murder.
  2. Involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter involves the death of one or more individuals due to the action or failure of another party's duty. Involuntary manslaughter involves no malice or forethought. It is essentially an accident that could have been avoided and resulted in death.
  3. Vehicular manslaughter. Vehicular manslaughter involves the death of another person due to being struck by a vehicle. The defendant must have been acting recklessly or with indifference to human life, and the victim must not have been at fault. A typical example is someone failing to stop at an intersection or striking a roadway worker while speeding.

What Are The Penalties In Illinois For Manslaughter?

Manslaughter and reckless homicide are considered Class 3 felonies. They carry a sentence of 3 to 5 years and considerable legal fines. The defendant may be charged with a Class 2 felony under the following circumstances:

  • The victim was an on-duty law officer or construction worker with signs clearly present;
  • The accident occurred in a school zone, construction zone, or another area with signs clearly present;
  • More than two people died as a direct result of the defendant's actions; and
  • The defendant violated other laws in conjunction with the manslaughter action

The defendant can face both criminal and civil charges, substantially increasing the fines if found guilty.

How Can One Defend Against A Charge of Manslaughter?

Depending on the specifics of the case, there are many different defenses one can raise against manslaughter; they include:

  • The action was accidental, rather than reckless;
  • The other party's action contributed partly or completely to their death;
  • Involuntary intoxication (someone tricked you into getting drunk or high);
  • The other person was killed after entering the defendant's home without consent and the defendant's knowledge;
  • Self-defense;
  • Actions to defend another from severe and imminent danger; 
  • Wrong suspect;
  • Consent to medical treatment; and
  • Insanity

All of these defenses will require clear and convincing evidence. A defendant's greatest chance of proving their innocence is by presenting a logical and concise argument that lays out the facts.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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