What is Manslaughter in Wyoming?

manslaughter charges wyoming

Get the Legal Help That Gives You the Best Chance of Freedom if You Have Wyoming Manslaughter Charges

Some people claim that homicide cases are simply assaults that result in someone’s death. Although that theory is true in some respects, facing a homicide charge is serious. The stakes are incredibly high for the accused and the prosecution.

Police and prosecutors dedicate much of their resources to solve and prosecute homicide cases. Typically, the prosecutors assigned to homicide cases have years of experience. Shouldn’t you have an attorney who has significant experience defending your serious case?

Wyoming criminal defense attorney Jeremy Hugus and his team with Cowboy Country Criminal Defense have the skills, resources, and dedication that give you the best shot at freedom.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

Police investigators and prosecutors always try to bring the most serious charges possible. Prosecutors have the pressure of making a murder case because they feel that is the best way to find justice for the victim’s family.

As a result, they often charge people with murder even when the facts of the case more appropriately support a manslaughter charge. What’s the difference between murder and manslaughter? 

First-Degree Murder

In Wyoming, the purposeful killing of another with premeditated malice is murder in the first degree. The prosecution must prove that the defendant did not act in the sudden heat of passion while killing the victim.  Instead, the state must prove the accused acted with premeditated malice. 

Premeditated malice means that the accused thought about killing the victim before committing the act. Premeditated means that some time passed between the time the accused formed the intent to kill and the time that they committed the act. There is no set amount of time required — premeditation can be formed in an instant. 

Malice means the accused committed the killing intentionally and with hatred, ill will, or hostility toward the victim. Premeditated malice is the exact opposite state of mind from the sudden heat of passion. Under Wyoming law, you cannot have both: it’s either one or the other.

Prosecutors can charge a person with murder in the first degree if the killing happened during the commission or the attempt to commit certain felonies. Under Wyoming law, felony murder occurs when the killing happened during the commission of any one of the following crimes:

  • Sexual assault,
  • Sexual abuse of a minor, 
  • Arson,
  • Robbery,
  • Burglary,
  • Escape,
  • Resisting arrest,
  • Kidnapping, or
  • Abuse of a child under 16.

In these circumstances, attempting to commit or committing any one of the crimes listed is a substitute for premeditated malice. Therefore, the prosecution does not have to prove the intent to kill in felony murder cases. Instead, they just have to prove the intent to commit one of the crimes listed.

Second-Degree Murder

Murder in the second degree is the killing of another purposely and with malice. Second-degree murder can be a charge that stands on its own, or it can be a lesser-included charge under first-degree murder. 

The difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder is premeditation. Second-degree murder does not have the legal requirement of premeditation. Instead, the prosecution must prove that the accused acted maliciously. For second-degree murder, maliciously means:

  • The accused acted in a way that was reasonably likely to result in death;
  • The accused committed the act recklessly under circumstances showing utter indifference to human life; and
  • The accused had no legal justification or excuse for acting in that way.

As with first-degree murder, if the accused acted in the sudden heat of passion, then the crime is voluntary manslaughter.

What Is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter, like second-degree murder, can be a lesser-included offense of murder. However, the charge of manslaughter could stand alone.

The Wyoming manslaughter statute says that manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without malice. The charge could be either voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter. 

Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that happens during the sudden heat of passion. The sudden heat of passion results from the arousal of passion.

However, the passion must be reasonable to the ordinary person. It must also arise suddenly and without time to cool off. A classic example of the heat of passion is killing your spouse immediately after you come home and find them in bed with someone else. 

Involuntary manslaughter is killing another person while acting recklessly. An example of reckless conduct is playing with a loaded gun that discharges accidentally and kills another. 

The charge of involuntary manslaughter does not apply if the killing happened while driving a vehicle recklessly. In that case, the appropriate charge is aggravated homicide by vehicle. Some people refer to this as vehicular manslaughter. 

Aggravated homicide by vehicle occurs when a person drives recklessly and kills someone. The reckless driving pattern may or may not be due to the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both. 

Drug-induced homicide is another charge that some might say fits under the manslaughter definition. Drug-induced homicide occurs when a person sells narcotics to a minor and the minor dies as a result. The accused has to be four years older than the minor for the charge to apply.

What Is Recklessness?

Recklessness is conduct that is more dangerous than ordinary negligence. According to the Wyoming criminal jury instructions, recklessness is the act of consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that harm will result.

In other words, reckless conduct is a gross deviation from actions that a reasonable person would take. However, reckless conduct does not rise to the level of the malicious conduct required for a second-degree murder conviction.

Manslaughter Penalties

Manslaughter, whether voluntary, involuntary, or aggravated homicide by vehicle, carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in state prison. However, the court can incarcerate the accused for up to 30 years (but no less than 10 years) if the victim was pregnant and the baby died as a result.

For this enhancement to apply, the accused must know that the victim was pregnant when committing the killing. This sentencing enhancement does not apply to aggravated homicide by vehicle. 

Murder Penalties

Murder in the second degree carries a minimum 20-year prison sentence, up to life. However, the minimum term is 40 years if the accused knew the victim was pregnant and the baby died. The penalty for murder in the first degree is life without parole, life imprisonment, or death. 

Get the Help Immediately if You Face Homicide Charges

Your life is at stake if the state charges you with homicide. At Cowboy Country Criminal Defense, attorney Jeremy Hugus and his team are ready to dedicate their time, energy, extensive skills, and resources to defend your freedom.

We will explore every potential defense possible. We will fight aggressively for you. Call us at Cowboy Country Criminal Defense today at 307-333-7884 to learn more about your options.

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