A previous blog post discussed the penalties for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania. A conviction for voluntary manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 20 years, while being convicted for involuntary manslaughter may carry a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Certain aggravating or mitigating factors may lead to harsher or lesser sentences, depending on the circumstances of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history, particularly violent crimes. A defendant may also assert several legal defenses to voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
The legal defenses to voluntary manslaughter are innocence, self-defense, insanity, accidental killing and involuntary intoxication. First, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If the prosecutor does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty, the defendant may be found innocent of the crime and acquitted. Second, to prove self-defense, a defendant must show that there was a reasonable need to exert deadly force to protect their life. A defendant must not have been the aggressor in the situation in order to assert this defense.
Third, a defendant may be able to prove insanity if they can show that they were insane — according to the state’s legal definition of insanity — at the time of the killing. Fourth, defendants may be able to have their charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter if they can show that the killing was an accident and not the result of their intentional actions.
Finally, a defendant may avoid a manslaughter conviction if they can show that they were involuntarily intoxicated at the time of the killing. Voluntary intoxication typically will not be a sufficient legal defense to a manslaughter charge. The legal defenses to involuntary manslaughter will be discussed in a future post.