How intent impacts crime and punishment

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

Few people in Washington set out to become criminals. However, even the most diligent can unwittingly find themselves accused of crimes as serious as homicide.

With most crimes, there are various degrees of severity and consequences. For example, one could be accused of petty theft for stealing a candy bar, but charged with a felony if they steal something of higher value. The distinguishing factor in those cases is monetary value. However, adding a weapon to the mix makes it a violent offense that’s punishable with higher fines and a longer period of incarceration.

Crimes that result in death are a different story. Hitting someone with a car and shooting someone could both result in serious bodily injury. When the victim dies, the charge will be some degree of homicide.

However, the car accident could be caused by faulty equipment or road rage. The shooting incident could be the result of self-defense, menacing, or murder. The main differences are intent and legal culpability.

What is intent? Manslaughter vs murder

In Washington state, someone dying as a result of your actions is ruled homicide whether you intended to kill them or not. The spectrum of homicides ranges from 1st-degree murder, which is planned and premeditated, to manslaughter.

Although far less consequential in legal terms than murder to any degree, manslaughter is still a serious offense. It means that an avoidable death occurred due to reckless behavior or negligence, which differs from death as the result of an accident where no blame can be placed.

Washington penal codes divide manslaughter into two categories, 1st and 2nd degree. Whether voluntary or involuntary, either one is a felony.

First-degree manslaughter is a Class A felony that carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and up to $50,000 in restitution. In legal terms, it means that a death was caused due to reckless behavior.

For example, drinking and driving that leads to a traffic fatality is 1st-degree vehicular manslaughter because the crime could not have occurred had someone called Uber rather than driving home.

Second-degree manslaughter is considered if a death is due to criminal negligence. Death was not the intention but could have been avoided if the legally responsible party had exercised due diligence. It’s a Class B felony that is punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine.

Some examples of involuntary, 2nd-degree manslaughter might include death from a treatable illness after being prevented from seeking medical care or being killed on a property that was in disrepair.

In a criminal trial, defendants can sometimes plead guilty to a lesser offense.

However, the punishment and willingness of prosecutors to make a deal often depend on the circumstances surrounding the case as well as the accused’s criminal history. Remorse, if it is sincere, also carries weight with judges and jurors when punishment is being considered.