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First Degree Manslaughter New York

By Spodek Law Group | July 17, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 15, 2023)

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 10:18 am

First Degree Manslaughter in New York – What You Need to Know

Manslaughter charges in New York can be super confusing and scary. First degree manslaughter is basically when someone kills another person, but they didn’t intend to. I know – it sounds kinda weird. This article will break it down in simple terms so you understand what’s going on if you or someone you know is charged with this crime.

What is First Degree Manslaughter?

In New York, first degree manslaughter is when someone causes the death of another person in one of these ways:

  • They intended to seriously hurt someone, but ended up killing them instead
  • They intended to kill someone, but did it while acting under “extreme emotional disturbance” (more on this later)
  • They performed an abortion on a woman who was more than 24 weeks pregnant and she died
  • They were over 18 and injured a child under 11 and the child died

It’s basically homicide (killing someone) without meaning to. The “first degree” part refers to the seriousness of the charge – first degree is the most serious level.

It’s a felony charge, which is more serious than a misdemeanor. First degree manslaughter is a class B felony, which means it carries up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

What’s the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

With murder, the person intended to kill someone and then did it. First degree manslaughter is different because the person who did it didn’t intend for the other person to die.

But their actions were still reckless or negligent and led to someone’s death. That’s the key difference – no intent to kill with manslaughter.

What Does “Extreme Emotional Disturbance” Mean?

This is one of the ways someone can end up with a first degree manslaughter charge instead of murder. If the person who did the killing was acting under an “extreme emotional disturbance” at the time, it can turn a murder charge into manslaughter.

Basically it means they were so emotionally overwhelmed that they acted rashly and killed someone without thinking it through.

A classic example is someone who comes home and finds their partner cheating, then kills the partner in a heated moment. They intended to kill the person, but the court says they weren’t in their right mind because of the disturbing situation.

The person has to kill while in that disturbed state though. If they find out about the cheating and then plan a killing for a week later, it doesn’t count because they had time to cool down.

What Are the Defenses Against This Charge?

There are a few ways a good criminal defense lawyer can defend someone against a first degree manslaughter charge:

  • Show it was an accident – Argue the death was an unfortunate accident and the defendant didn’t mean to seriously hurt or kill anyone.
  • Prove lack of intent – For the serious injury type, show there was no actual intent to seriously hurt the victim. For the killing type, show the defendant was not acting under true extreme emotional disturbance.
  • Show involuntary action – Argue the defendant’s actions were involuntary, which can get the charge reduced to second degree manslaughter.

A lot depends on the specific circumstances of the incident and a lawyer will look at all angles to figure out the best defense.

What’s the Sentence if Convicted?

Since first degree manslaughter is a class B felony, the maximum sentence if convicted is up to 25 years in state prison. The judge can also add a fine of up to $5,000 on top of the prison time.

The actual sentence depends on things like:

  • Defendant’s past criminal record
  • Any prior manslaughter convictions
  • If the defendant shows remorse

There’s also something called “aggravated first degree manslaughter” where the sentence is even higher – 10 to 30 years in prison. This applies if the victim was a police officer.

Real Life Cases

It helps to look at some real examples of people charged with this crime:

  • Bar fight turned deadly – A man got in a fight with a bouncer at a bar after dancing on a table. The bouncer tried to push him off the table and a fight broke out. The man put the bouncer in a headlock and the bouncer hit his head on the floor and later died. The man was charged with first degree manslaughter since he intended to hurt the bouncer but didn’t mean to kill him.
  • Crime of passion – A woman found out her husband was cheating and stabbed him to death in a heated moment. She was charged with first degree manslaughter rather than murder because she killed while under extreme emotional disturbance after finding out about the affair.
  • Child injury turned deadly – A man violently shook his girlfriend’s baby because it wouldn’t stop crying. The child died from head injuries. The man was over 18 and charged with first degree manslaughter since his actions injured a child under 11 and led to the child’s death.

How Does the Process Work?

If you’re charged with first degree manslaughter, here’s a quick rundown of how the criminal justice process typically works:

  • Police investigate and refer the case to the district attorney’s office if they think they have enough evidence.
  • The DA files formal charges and you’re arrested and booked.
  • At your arraignment, you enter a plea (usually not guilty at this point). Bail may be set.
  • Your lawyer will file motions and begin building your defense strategy. This can take months.
  • Eventually a trial date is set or a plea bargain may be offered.
  • If it goes to trial, a jury will decide if you’re guilty after hearing arguments from both sides.
  • If convicted, a judge determines your sentence based on sentencing guidelines and other factors.

It’s a long and complex process, which is why having an experienced criminal defense lawyer is so important. A good lawyer can negotiate with the DA, argue to get charges reduced or dismissed, and defend you at trial if it comes to that.

Finding the Right Lawyer

If you or someone you love is charged with first degree manslaughter, it’s critical to talk to a criminal defense lawyer right away. Like literally don’t talk to anyone else – just say you want your lawyer!

When looking for a lawyer, you want someone with specific experience defending manslaughter cases. Bonus points if they have experience as a prosecutor because they’ll know how the DA thinks.

You want someone who will thoroughly investigate the circumstances, argue to get charges lowered or dropped, and won’t be intimidated to go to trial if needed.

Basically you need a tough lawyer who knows how to fight these charges and has a record of winning. That gives you the best chance in this difficult situation.

The Bottom Line

Being charged with first degree manslaughter is scary. Even though sentences are less than murder, up to 25 years in prison is still a huge deal.

Don’t go through this alone! Get an experienced lawyer on your side quickly. Understand the charges and possible defenses. And remember the key differences from murder – no intent to kill, but reckless actions that led to someone’s death.

There are absolutely ways to fight these charges and get them lowered or dismissed. But you need someone who knows the system and how to build the best case. Don’t leave your future up to chance. Be smart and get a great lawyer right away – it can make all the difference.

Hopefully this gives you a better sense of what first degree manslaughter involves in New York. Let me know if you have any other questions!

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