NJ MANSLAUGHTER LAW – NJSA 2C:11-4
Defense Attorney for NJ Manslaughter Charges
Manslaughter is the second most serious homicide charge in New Jersey. Criminal homicide—i.e., murder—becomes the lesser crime of aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter when someone:
- did not plan ahead, but caused the death of another under circumstances amounting to extreme indifference to human life, was reckless, or acted in the heat of passion
- while fleeing or attempting to escape a law enforcement officer, caused the death of another person
So, under Title 2C The New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (2C:11-4), manslaughter is intentional killing, but distinguishable from murder. Murder is a crime in the first degree, and in order to convict someone of murder the prosecution must prove that the defendant:
- caused the victim’s death or the serious bodily harm resulting in death
- that the defendant acted purposely or knowingly
- did not act in the heat of passion after being reasonably provoked
If the prosecution is unable to prove that the defendant acted “in cold blood,” (i.e., not in the heat of passion) the jury may find the defendant guilty of manslaughter as a result of reasonable provocation, but not murder.
THE ELEMENTS OF MANSLAUGHTER
Under New Jersey criminal homicide law, there are three forms of manslaughter: 1) aggravated, 2) reckless, and 3) passion as a result of reasonable provocation.
Aggravated manslaughter is a first-degree crime. If the prosecution proves that the defendant displayed extreme indifference to human life, the defendant faces a New Jersey prison sentence of between 10 and 30 years. If the defendant killed someone fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, the sentence could be between 10 and 20 years.
Reckless manslaughter and passion as a result of reasonable provocation manslaughter are second-degree crimes. A second-degree crime can result in a five to ten-year prison sentence.
WHAT THE PROSECUTION MUST PROVE
AGGRAVATED MANSLAUGHTER INVOLVES “EXTREME INDIFFERENCE.”
To convict a defendant of the first-degree crime of aggravated manslaughter, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of another while displaying an extreme indifference to human life.
Extreme indifference would be showing an attitude of malice and lack of regard to the value of human life–someone deciding in the heat of passion to drive a vehicle into a crowd of demonstrators, for example.
RECKLESSNESS AND HEAT OF PASSION ARE LESSER CRIMES.
To convict a defendant of reckless manslaughter, the prosecution must prove that the defendant caused the death of someone and either ignored or should have known that death would result from such reckless conduct.
Heat of passion manslaughter typically results from what the law recognizes as reasonable provocation. That is, the provocation must be extreme and cause an ordinary reasonable person to lose self-control and react with violence with a fatal result.
The provocation leading to the death must be adequate. Likewise, the defendant could not have had time to cool off between the time of the provocation and the time the death result. And, of course, the provocation must have actually caused the defendant to lose control.
- Words alone, regardless how insulting or offensive, do not constitute adequate provocation.
- Intoxication is not a defense that can be used in either aggravated manslaughter nor reckless or heat-of-passion manslaughter.
- The statute of limitations does not apply to aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter.
DEATH BY AUTO
In New Jersey death by auto is criminal death caused by someone driving recklessly. Again, intoxication is not a defense, because drunk driving is evidence on its own that the defendant drove recklessly. The sentencing judge in a death by auto conviction can postpone, suspend, or revoke the defendant’s driver’s license for a period of up to two years.
DEFENSES AGAINST MANSLAUGHTER
A defendant charged with murder or the lesser included crimes of manslaughter, can invoke a variety of defenses. They include justifiable homicide, proof of inability to intentionally kill, and a reasonable mistake.
JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDES ARE EXCUSED BY LAW.
They include self-defense (perfect and imperfect), defense of property, and crime prevention.
Perfect self-defense occurs when the defendant acts out of the honest and reasonable belief that killing another person was the only option available for self-defense.
Imperfect self-defense can arise from the defendant’s mistaken belief that self-defense was needed in the first place. This would be where the defendant honestly believed that self-defense was a necessity, but any other reasonable person would not agree.
Defense of Property can be a defense if the defendant (property owner) can prove that a trespasser ore intruder threatened the life of the owner.
Prevention of a crime could be a defense if the defendant can demonstrate that the intervention was reasonable.
INABILITY TO INTENTIONALLY KILL IS ANOTHER DEFENSE.
This category of defense includes proof of insanity, intoxication, diminished capacity, and unconsciousness. Those defenses will not excuse murder, but could reduce the homicide charge to manslaughter.
A REASONABLE MISTAKE IS STILL ANOTHER DEFENSE AGAINST MANSLAUGHTER.
To prove that a person had the mental state to kill someone, the prosecutor must show that the defendant had knowledge that the killing was illegal and unjustified. That lack of knowledge could include a mistake of fact, an element of imperfect self-defense, for example.
Finally, entrapment—when a law enforcement agent convinces a person to commit a homicide they would not have otherwise have committed—is one defense. Normally, someone’s ignorance of the law cannot be a defense to a criminal charge. Entrapment, however, is the sole exception to that rule.
CONTACT AN EXPERIENCED NJ CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER TO START BUILDING YOUR CASE TODAY
I am a former prosecutor, and I am aware of how the state can throw its unlimited weight to convict someone. If convicted of aggravated manslaughter or manslaughter, you could face lengthy prison time and a ruined future. The Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio, LLC can put their years of real-life courtroom experience to work for you.
Schedule a free initial consultation with one of our experienced homicide defense lawyers. Call our office at 732-334-7468 or fill out our online contact form. We will be back to you promptly with an honest and fair assessment of your options.