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How do courts distinguish between self-defense and manslaughter?

On Behalf of | Apr 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

The killing of a person may or may not be a criminal act. How the courts define the incident comes down to the circumstances and intentions of a defendant.

While manslaughter is a lesser offense than murder, a conviction still brings unwanted consequences. New Jersey residents should understand how courts differentiate between manslaughter and self-defense.

What constitutes manslaughter?

Manslaughter receives a lesser sentence than murder because murder involves intentionally committing homicide without just cause. Manslaughter involves an unplanned homicide that occurred due to careless or reckless actions.

Manslaughter can be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter means the accused party intended to harm someone and that the harmful actions resulted in an unintentional homicide.

Involuntary manslaughter involves grossly negligent behavior, such as driving under the influence or mishandling a dangerous weapon. Courts use the reasonable person standard in such cases to establish the level of negligence.

When is a homicide in self-defense?

One person may accidentally kill another in an act of self-defense. Sometimes the court rules the homicide was manslaughter, and other times, it decides the action was justifiable. The difference depends on whether the defendant’s reaction was reasonable.

Multiple cases establish that individuals have the right to protect themselves and others from imminent bodily harm or death from another person who is acting unlawfully. The law also permits people to protect their property by using force in specific instances.

For an argument for self-defense to stand, the court must find that the defendant believed the attacker was using unlawful force or violence. Defendants in these cases must also believe that a deadly level of force was necessary at the time.

The lines between self-defense and manslaughter can be challenging to establish. Defendants must present clear arguments and evidence to convince a court of their intentions.