Manslaughter in the First Degree

Manslaughter in the First Degree: New York Penal Law §125.20

In New York, Manslaughter in the First Degree is only one step down from murder. As a result, the stakes are high and the penalties are harsh if a person is convicted. Losing the case is not an option and every waking moment should be spent working on the defense.

There are two common ways that individuals can be charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree, and while they are predicated on the same result - someone was killed - they present very different scenarios. The differences are extremely important because, depending on the prosecutor's theory of the case, they will be required to prove different elements. Understanding those elements, and how to show that the prosecutor has failed to meet their burden of proof as it relates to them, is the key to winning these cases.

In the first scenario, a person intends to cause serious physical injury to another individual, but rather than just getting hurt, that person ends up dying as a result. Generally speaking, prosecutors will charge Manslaughter in the First Degree instead of murder when they do not believe they can show that the individual actually intended to kill the other person, just that some sort of physical harm was desired. The most classic example of this occurs when two people get into a fight, and during the altercation, the defendant pushes the other person, causing that person to lose their balance and slam their head into a blunt object, lose consciousness, and bleed to death before help can arrive. The prosecutor would have difficulty showing that the defendant intended to kill the other individual by merely pushing him. But this theory of Manslaughter in the First Degree does not have that element of intent. The prosecutor can charge the individual if they can show that there was intent to cause serious physical injury, which they can argue is demonstrated by the fact that there was a fight, and that the person died as a result.

The second situation where a person can be charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree is commonly referred to as a "heat of passion" killing. When some circumstance occurs which makes a person so emotional that they snap and intentionally kill someone because of that hyper-emotional state of mind, they will be charged under this statute rather than murder. The most common example of this theory occurs when a person comes home and finds their spouse or partner in bed with another person, they become enraged and, unable to control their anger at catching their partner in the act, kill both people. Even though the intent to kill is present, the totality of the circumstances is determined to warrant a mitigation down from murder to Manslaughter in the First Degree. It should be noted, however, that in order for this mitigation to apply, the defendant must act while still in that emotional state. If the person in the example listed above came home and found their partner in bed with someone else, but did not confront that person right then, but planned a revenge killing to take place the following week, the prosecutor will charge murder because a "cooling off" period had occurred where the defendant is considered able to regain control of their actions and make the decision not to commit homicide.

Manslaughter in the First Degree is a class B felony, punishable by up to 25 years in an upstate prison.

If you have been charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree, you need to immediately retain a top defense attorney. Being represented by an attorney who understands the prosecutor's theory and how to expose the weaknesses in their case could easily become the difference between freedom and incarceration. Every single possible defense must be explored to determine the strongest argument to present to a prosecutor or a jury.

At the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman, our experienced attorneys have successfully handled countless cases concerning both of the scenarios that lead to a person being charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree. We thoroughly investigate every angle, scour medical records and autopsy reports, and tirelessly work to expose witness bias and credibility issues for all prosecution witnesses. We will ensure that your rights, and your liberty, are protected. Call us today at (212) 581 - 1001 for a free case evaluation.