What is the Law on Manslaughter in South Carolina and What are the Punishments for it?
When an unlawful death occurs, the main challenge that the jury faces is to determine if the act is that of a murder or manslaughter. The two charges are confusing most of the times as the only major distinguishing factor is the involvement of malice. It is the work of the South Carolina jury to clearly understand the evidence presented by the prosecutor in order to ensure that the defendant is not charged with an incorrect felony.
Understanding the state of mind
It is essential to understand what was going on in the mind of the defendant when the crime was committed. A planned intention to take away a human life vs a negligent action which took life is very different. While in both cases, killing is involved however the punishments differ invariably.
The trial will begin with the State charging the defendant of murder and manslaughter. It is then up to the jury, who will look at the case holistically and decide if the defendant is guilty of manslaughter or murder.
Interesting facts on types of killings categorized as manslaughter:
Killing in self-defense – The US judicial system recognizes that everyone has the right to protect themselves and should be able to identify any harm coming to them in such an act. In the cases of killing for self-defense, the defense lawyer needs to prove:
o That the defendant used force because finding himself/ herself in a difficult situation was not his/ her fault.
o If the defendant engaged with the attacker in mutual combat, s/he would not be able to state the action as that of a self-defense
o The defendant was constantly in fear that s/he may either get seriously injured or end up dead
o Any reasonable person with a stable mind would have taken the same action as by the defendant
o The only way to get himself/ herself out of the situation and the danger was by resorting to violence with the attacker
Manslaughter while defending others:
Interestingly, self-defense actions can be overridden by the doctrine of ‘duty of retreat’. However, to simplify cases and the understanding of the jury, South Carolina does not promote duty of retreat. Under the Protection of Persons and Property Act of South Carolina, there are some guidelines laid down for the actions taken for the defense of others.
If the defendant finds herself/ himself in a situation where s/he is the witness to another person being attached then the South Carolina law allows this witness to step in and assist the person in defense. However, in order to have this doctrine prevail, it is important that all aspects of self-defense are met else the killing would fall in the bucket of manslaughter.
The burden of proof of self-defense
In South Carolina, if the defense has beyond reasonable doubt provided evidence of self-defense or to save another human life, then it is the job of the prosecution to prove the evidence incorrect.
Accidental Killing – When a killing happens due to a possibility of accidental killing instead of a criminal level, it is considered as accidental killing. In such cases, the defendant may not criminally responsible, however, does hold a civil liability.
A classic example of this kind would be when ‘X’ serves as a flight instructor on his day off as a certified airline pilot. Say on a specific day as an instructor, X was finishing his maneuver and returning to base with his student when X realizes that there was some problem with the engine and their plane started losing altitude.
X sees an open field and decided to take his best shot by landing there instead of pulling into the airport which was still another 10 miles away. As X began to descend, the engine failed completely. X touched the field and pressed on brakes hard.
The field was extremely rough and small (not good for landing) and the airplane rammed into a tree. As X regained consciously, he saw his student was slouched and his head was on one side. It did not take long for X to realize that his student had died due to the impact.