A 20-year-old Washington man was arrested recently in connection with the beating of a 27-year-old man who was found unconscious and transported to Harborview Medical. Police said they believe the younger man attacked the older man after an argument they had earlier in the day. The police originally arrested the man on suspicion of assault, but sometime after that the victim died. He will now likely face homicide charges of some kind.
There are homicides in which a person intentionally kills someone, and then there are homicides in which the killing was the result of recklessness. For these reckless homicides, Washington imposes the charge of manslaughter. Prosecutors often employ this charge in cases involving a drunk driver who allegedly caused a fatal accident. But there are other cases in which it isn't clear whether the charge should be manslaughter or murder.
Prosecutors may charge suspects with second-degree murder when the accused allegedly killed the victim without premeditation, but that charge requires the intent to kill. That charge can stick even if the accused intended to kill someone other than the actual victim.
Manslaughter charges are different. To be convicted of manslaughter, the accused need not have had any intention to kill. However, the victim must have died as a result of the defendant's action, the action must have been inherently dangerous or committed with reckless disregard of human life, and the defendant must have known that the action was a threat to the lives of others.
For example, when a suspect drives drunk and crashes into another car, killing its driver, the suspect probably would not be convicted of a murder charge, but could be convicted of manslaughter charges. Similarly, a suspect who got in a fist fight with another person in which the other person was accidentally killed might not be convicted of second-degree murder, but could be convicted of manslaughter charges.
In all of these cases, the accused are entitled to a defense. It's important for Washington residents accused of manslaughter to understand how the law applies to their own unique set of circumstances.
Source: KOMO News, "Shelton beating victim dies; suspect arrested," Michael Harthorne, Aug. 29, 2013