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Understanding Article 119, UCMJ – Manslaughter

There are two types of manslaughter under the UCMJ: voluntary and involuntary.  Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person is unlawfully killed “in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation.”  Involuntary manslaughter is when a death results from “culpable negligence” or occurs during the commission of certain offenses.  The elements for these offenses are as follows:

Voluntary Manslaughter

  • That a certain named or described person is dead;
  • That the death resulted from the act or omission of the accused;
  • That the killing was unlawful; and
  • That, at the time of the killing, the accused had the intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm upon the person killed.

Involuntary Manslaughter

  • That a certain named or described person is dead;
  • That the death resulted from the act or omission of the accused;
  • That the killing was unlawful; and
  • That this act or omission of the accused constituted culpable negligence, or occurred while the accused was perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate an offense directly affecting the person other than burglary, rape, rape of a child, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual contact, sexual abuse of a child, robbery, or aggravated arson.

Manslaughter Explained

Voluntary manslaughter, like murder under Article 118, requires the intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm.  The difference between the two acts is that voluntary manslaughter occurs if the unlawful killing is “committed in the heat of sudden passion caused by adequate provocation.”  Common examples of circumstances which may constitute adequate provocation are unlawful infliction of great bodily harm, unlawful imprisonment, and when one spouse catches another spouse in an act of adultery.  Adequate provocation does not excuse the homicide but does preclude a conviction of murder.

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, does not require a specific intent to kill or inflict great bodily injury.  Rather, involuntary manslaughter occurs when a death is the result of “culpable negligence.”  Culpable negligence is greater than simple negligence—as is required for a charge of Negligent Homicide under Article 134—and is defined as a “negligent act or omission accompanied by a culpable disregard for the foreseeable consequences to other of that act or omission.”  In other words, culpable negligence occurs if an act might foreseeably result in someone’s death.  Common examples of acts that could be considered culpable negligence include conducting target practice in the direction of an inhabited house or pointing a pistol in jest at someone and pulling the trigger, believing, but without taking reasonable precautions to determine, whether it was loaded.

Defenses

Rule for Court-Martial 916 provides defenses to manslaughter. These include justification (that the death caused was in the proper performance of a legal duty and is justified and not unlawful), obedience to orders, self-defense, accident, and lack of mental responsibility.

Maximum Punishment

The maximum punishment for voluntary manslaughter is a dishonorable discharge and confinement for 15 years.  Involuntary manslaughter carries the risk of a dishonorable discharge and confinement for 10 years.  The maximum punishment for both charges increases by 5 years of confinement for the death of a child under 16 years of age.

Protect Your Freedom and Your Military Future

When your life, career, and future are on the line, you need an experienced law firm in your corner. The skilled and assertive attorneys at Military Justice Attorneys have decades of combined military justice experience and will zealously fight for you. We have defended servicemen and women facing investigations, trials, and discipline for the most serious offenses under the UCMJ, including manslaughter, and will ensure that every avenue of defense is aggressively pursued on your behalf. Call us today at (844) 334-5459 for a free consultation.

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