It should come as no surprise that the unlawful killing of another human being—under any circumstance—ranks among the most serious of all felony offenses. In Michigan, homicide—the act of one person killing another—is broken down into several categories by the mental state of the actor in the commission of the killing. The primary categories are murder and manslaughter.
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A conviction for first degree murder carries a mandatory prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole. While there are other specific instances of homicide that meet the statutory definition of first degree murder1 —such as a murder of a police officer lawfully engaged in the performance of their duties or a murder during the commission of certain felonies—the defining element of this crime is premeditation. Unless there is an issue of identification, alibi, or self-defense, a first degree murder trial in Michigan will be fought on the issue of premeditation and whether the Government can prove that element beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a common misconception that premeditation requires lengthy scheming and planning. While many such murders do have such facts, courts have said that premeditation can happen in an instant.
Understanding an actor’s mental state—or mens rea— is the key to differentiating between the various degrees of murder and manslaughter. You could say that the law creates a hierarchy of these crimes based on the degree of intent, ranging from pre-planned and intentional to accidental.
Second degree murder encompasses all other kinds of murder that are not first degree murder and is punishable by life imprisonment or any term of years.2 Second degree murder in Michigan still requires malice or reckless disregard for the value of human life. The crime of voluntary manslaughter recognizes the frailty of the human psyche and concerns the common law definition of a crime of passion. Involuntary manslaughter and other statutory equivalents3 such as delivery causing death or operating while intoxicated causing death requires only that the actor intended to do the act that caused the death, not that he/she intended to cause the death itself. For example, a person intended to sell heroin to someone, but didn’t intend for the buyer to overdose and die. Or in the drunk driving context, intended to drink the alcohol and got behind the wheel of a car, but didn’t intend to hit and kill someone with the vehicle. There are of course the substantial defenses to the types of crimes mentioned above, such as self-defense or an alibi that proves you were somewhere else or with someone else.
There are of course the substantial defenses to the types of crimes mentioned above, such as self-defense or an alibi that proves you were somewhere else or with someone else. If you or someone close to you is charged with murder or manslaughter in Michigan you no doubt realize the seriousness of the situation. Our defense attorneys have hands-on, in-depth experience representing clients charged with murder and manslaughter. We have fought for our clients to win favorable outcomes in the face of these most serious charges. Whether it is negotiating a plea reduction or challenging the evidence in pretrial motions or at trial, Mas/Stig-Nielsen is prepared and equipped to aid you in presenting your best defense.
What’s the Difference Between First and Second Degree Murder Charges in Michigan?
In Michigan, there are two degrees of murder charges: first and second. Which one you face will depend on the circumstances of the alleged crime as well as your perceived intentions.
First Degree Murder
This charge applies when the defendant is believed to have deliberately and intentionally killed another person. Examples include lying in wait for the victim, using poison, or any other action that clearly indicates an intention to kill. However, you can also be charged with First Degree Murder if you allegedly:
- Killed someone while in the act of committing certain crimes, such as arson, criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, robbery, or carjacking.
- Killed a peace officer or corrections officer while they were lawfully discharging their duties.
If convicted, the punishment is imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole.
Second Degree Murder
This offense covers all acts of murder not specifically addressed in a First Degree Murder charge. The killing is intentional or the result of reckless disregard for human life, but usually unplanned. The penalty is life in prison, with eligibility for parole after 15 years.
Given the devastating impact a murder charge can have on your future (and that of your family), you should immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer, even if you’re only under investigation. The experienced attorneys at Mas/Stig-Nielsen, PLLC will fight for you using skilled and creative defense strategies.
What are the Penalties for Manslaughter in Michigan?
Michigan law defines manslaughter as the intentional act of killing another person under certain circumstances, such as provocation or temporary excitement. The charge is distinguished from First and Second Degree Murder by an absence of malice.
There are two classes of manslaughter:
- Voluntary: the intentional killing of another person in a sudden heat of passion due to provocation and without malice.
- Involuntary: the unintentional killing of another person due to an act of negligence or while committing an unlawful act not amounting to a felony.
The penalty for manslaughter in Michigan is not more than 15 years in prison or a fine of not more than $7,500 dollars, or both, at the discretion of the court. A Traverse City manslaughter lawyer will present the strongest defense possible for your case.
What is the Difference Between Vehicular Homicide and DUI Manslaughter?
In Michigan, there is no “vehicular homicide” law that applies exclusively to driving-related unlawful deaths. However, a motorist in this state who causes the death of another person while behind the wheel can be charged with one of the following offenses:
- Reckless Driving Causing Death: A felony charge can be imposed if you cause the death of another person by driving recklessly. If convicted, you may serve up to 15 years in state prison and be fined between $2,500 and $10,000.
- Moving Violation Causing Death: Moving violations that do not constitute reckless driving but still cause the death of another person are misdemeanors punishable by one year of incarceration and a fine of up to $2,000.
- Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated (OWI): If you cause another person’s death while driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both, you may face felony charges for OWI/DUI manslaughter. Upon conviction, you could spend up to 15 years in prison and be fined up to $10,000. If you were convicted of OWI during the previous seven years, and your blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.17 or more, you could spend up to 20 years in prison.
Any crime that involves the death of another person will be vigorously prosecuted, especially if a motor vehicle is involved. An experienced Michigan homicide attorney at Mas/Stig-Nielsen, PLLC will fight to minimize the charges against you or get them dropped altogether. Call us today to set up a consultation: 231-714-4128.
1 MCL 750.316.
2 MCL 750.317.
3 For example, Michigan also punishes as manslaughter the discharge of a firearm intentionally aimed without malice resulting in death, MCL 750.329. Statutes define crimes of homicide than manslaughter, such as negligent homicide, MCL 750.324; and careless, reckless, or negligent use of firearms, MCL 752.861.