Legal Terms

Manslaughter in the first or second degree

Manslaughter is most commonly charged when there has been a car accident in which alcohol was involved and someone was killed. Factors that convert a tragic accident to Manslaughter in the Second Degree or even to Manslaughter in the First Degree may include: a high blood alcohol level, how fast (and therefore how reckless) the driver was going before the accident, whether the defendant fled the scene of the accident, and prior convictions for DUII.

If you look at advertisements for DUII lawyers, they often mention how important it is that a defendant charged with DUII contact a lawyer within 10 days, because some driving privileges can be lost on day 11. This is absolutely true, but for anyone who is charged – or has a family member charged — with a vehicular homicide, there is even greater urgency: evidence may be lost within days or even hours of the accident that could have had a big effect on the final outcome of the case. There is almost nothing more important in a case of a vehicular homicide than having the defense attorney and his experts get to the scene of the accident before evidence is, often quite literally, washed away.

For example, the police will attempt to determine – based on physical evidence at the scene, as well as the statements of witnesses – how fast the defendant was driving when the accident occurred. Physical evidence might include the length of skid marks, which – when properly considered with the rest of evidence – may give a good idea of the car’s speed. As noted above, the speed could be the difference between Manslaughter II (75 months prison) and Manslaughter I (120 months prison) or Criminally Negligent Homicide. But it is not unusual for the police to misread the physical evidence: they might measure the wrong skid marks, or they could measure them incorrectly, or they could mishandle the calculations. In my experience, police officers always overestimate the speed at which a Manslaughter defendant was driving. Any skilled lawyer will want to go to the scene as soon as possible – accompanied by a reputable accident reconstructionist — before any evidence is lost.

For this reason, if you are considering hiring a lawyer for any type of vehicular homicide, or any vehicular assault, you need to retain them as quickly as possible, with enough funds to hire an accident reconstructionist immediately. Since manslaughter cases are very complicated but also relatively rare, you should ask how many manslaughter cases the attorney has handled before hiring them to represent you or a family member.