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Penalties for voluntary and involuntary manslaughter

A previous blog post discussed the two types of manslaughter in Pennsylvania -- voluntary and involuntary. There is a different state of mind required for each.

Voluntary manslaughter is a homicide that took place in the heat of passion or under an unreasonable belief. Involuntary manslaughter requires that the killing was committed unintentionally, through the reckless or grossly negligent conduct of the defendant.

There are also different penalties associated with each type of manslaughter. In Pennsylvania, voluntary manslaughter is a first-degree felony. Conviction can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Additionally, if a defendant has two or more convictions for a violent crime, a mandatory minimum sentence will be imposed. For example, if a defendant's conviction for voluntary manslaughter is his third violent offense, he will receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years.

Involuntary manslaughter is considered a first-degree misdemeanor. It carries a prison sentence of up to five years. Some actions that can constitute involuntary manslaughter are reckless driving, child abuse and neglect, driving while intoxicated and speeding. Defendants found guilty of involuntary manslaughter as the parent, caregiver or custodian of a child under age 12 will be charged with a second-degree felony.

Judges generally consider aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the sentence to impose for manslaughter. Aggravating factors that may lead to a harsher sentence include the brutality of the killing and the defendant's criminal history. Mitigating factors that may result in a sentence reduction include lack of a criminal history and the defendant's remorse or acceptance of responsibility for the crime. The legal defenses to voluntary and involuntary manslaughter will be discussed in a future post.

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