What Is the Difference between First- and Second-Degree Manslaughter?


In Short: Voluntary and Involuntary.

Murder charges generally involve an intentional killing; but if you kill someone but did not intend to do it, you might be accused of the crime of manslaughter instead.  Manslaughter is defined as the unintentional killing of a person without lawful justification (720 ILCS 5/9-3.)  Unlike the terms that are used in some states (First- and Second-Degree Manslaughter), Illinois recognizes other terms to describe the forms of manslaughter:

Even though the killing was unintentional, any charges of manslaughter are taken seriously and will be vigorously prosecuted.  Conviction could mean years in jail and a large fine, as well as consequences that will ruin your reputation and negatively impact your relationships, career, education, housing, and benefits.

If you are facing allegations of manslaughter, you need the best defense available, as prosecutors will be fighting to impose the steepest punishment.  The seasoned Illinois criminal defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. have extensive experience in all areas of homicide and know that there may be aspects of a manslaughter charge that may lead to a dismissal or result in a lesser offense or penalty. We offer a free consultation to examine the issues in your case and determine what we can do to help fight for your rights and freedom.

Contact us online or call our offices today to set up your free consultation.

What is the difference between the different degrees of manslaughter?

Voluntary Manslaughter

In Illinois, the term “voluntary manslaughter” is now used only for the voluntary killing of an unborn child. What used to be considered voluntary manslaughter is now categorized instead as second-degree murder. Second-degree murder is similar to first-degree murder but has certain mitigating circumstances — such as being seriously provoked or believing the killing was lawfully justified — that lessen the charge.

Voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child may occur in one of two circumstances:

  1. When a person acts under a “sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by another whom the offender endeavors to kill, but negligently or accidentally causes the death of the unborn child.”
  2. When a person intentionally kills an unborn child and, at the time of the killing, believes that the circumstances justify or exonerate the killing, but the belief is unreasonable.

The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter of an unborn child is that voluntary manslaughter requires the mental states of “knowingly” or “intentionally.”

Voluntary manslaughter is a Class 1 Felony with punishments of:

  • 4 to 15 years in prison
  • Periodic imprisonment of up 3 to 4 years
  • Probation or conditional discharge of up to 4 years
  • A fine of up to $25,000
  • Restitution

Involuntary manslaughter

In Illinois it is involuntary manslaughter when a person causes an unintentional killing by “recklessly” performing acts that caused someone’s death. “Recklessly” is defined as being when the person “consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a result will follow.” This disregard must be shown to be “a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.”

In Illinois, involuntary manslaughter is called “reckless homicide” if the cause of death is from operating a motor vehicle; it may also be referred to as vehicular homicide or vehicular manslaughter. See 720 ILCS 5/9-3.

Involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide are considered Class 3 felonies, with punishments of 2 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. Under some circumstances, the charge may become a Class 2, felony with 3 to 7 years in prison, a fine of up to $25,000, periodic imprisonment of 18 to 30 months, or probation or conditional discharge of up to 4 years, with a fine of up to $25,000 and/or restitution.

The range of sentences allows judges to have discretion in determining punishment based on any aggravating or mitigating factors in a case. Mitigating factors, such as accepting responsibility for what happened, may decrease punishment. Aggravating factors, such as past history or reckless behavior, increase severity of punishment.

Defenses to Manslaughter

There are several potential defenses to manslaughter charges, including:

  • The defendant acted with lawful justification in making the decisions that led to the death
  • The defendant acted in self-defense, while defending the home against unlawful entry or while defending others
  • Insanity or mental defect
  • Involuntary intoxication
  • The act was not reckless, but accidental, and the defendant exercised reasonable care
  • For death of an unborn child, there was consent of the pregnant woman (as in abortion), or the death occurred during diagnostic testing or treatment that followed usual and customary standards of medical practice.

Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation

If you or a loved one is charged with manslaughter, you need to hire the best criminal defense attorney you can find. Your case may seem impossible, but with skillful representation you have a chance. Remember, the law places a heavy burden on the government, and you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The manslaughter defense lawyers at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. are skilled trial lawyers who believe each case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. We know the judges and the court system and will aggressively explore every avenue for your defense.  We examine the facts, the individuals involved, and the evidence available, and work hand in hand with our clients to come up with an effective defense strategy tailored to your specific circumstances. Our goal is always to minimize the negative impact of the situation and to focus on protecting your freedoms, liberties and rights.

Don’t delay — contact us online or call our offices to set up your free consultation today if you have been accused of manslaughter.

Attorney Marc Wolfe

Marc Wolfe has been representing clients in criminal matters in Chicago and the entire State of Illinois for over 30 years. Mr. Wolfe has tried over 300 cases to verdict and represents clients facing investigation or prosecution for a broad range of state and federal criminal offenses, including murder, embezzlement, sexual abuse, drugs, marijuana and white collar crimes. [ Attorney Bio ]