Manslaughter is any deliberate act which results in the death of another human being where there was no intent to cause death and the act was not likely to cause death. It is a crime. In any charge of murder, manslaughter is a lesser included offence and a prosecutor may make arguments in support of a murder charge yet still obtain a conviction for manslaughter if the defendant is acquitted of murder.
Manslaughter is the usual charge where it is clear that the defendant meant to do some harm but was clearly not intending to cause more than bodily harm. It commonly arises out of physical altercations with non-lethal weapons, such as clubs, knives or even fists. However, the de minimus for the offence is rather light - any act of assault which results in death may lead to a finding of manslaughter. For example:
- lightly pushing someone who falls off a high platform due to losing their balance;
- striking someone who has a medical condition, such as hemophilia, which makes even minor injury life threatening;
- a natural but unfortunate and rare consequence of an act, such as shoving someone who hits their head on the way down.
The use of lethal weapons, such as firearms, will generally not lead to a manslaughter finding even if the defendant's motive was not to kill the victim. For example, waving a gun about which discharges accidentally and kills someone will lead to a finding of murder, not manslaughter, because despite the motive of the perpetrator, the intent of someone using a deadly weapon is presumed to be to cause the death of someone.
Although the maximum sentence for manslaughter is generally the same as murder (life imprisonment), the minimum sentence is usually far less and can be as little as several months. Typical sentences are in the range of 3-10 years. As such, a finding of manslaughter instead of murder can be a very great victory for a defendant.