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New York Penal Law § 125.20: Manslaughter in the first degree

New York Penal Law § 125.20: Manslaughter in the first degree

In New York, the only step down from murder is Manslaughter in the First Degree. Any person who is charged with this crime is facing a very serious situation. An individual convicted of this could get significant penalties and punishments. It is not a case that anyone can afford to lose.


The charge of Manslaughter in the First Degree can occur in two common scenarios. Both are based on the same result. Which one will be used to try and prove a prosecutor’s theory is key to a legal defense. Understanding them can make it possible to prove a prosecutor has not met their burden of proof. This is what must happen for a defense attorney to win a case.

First Scenario

In this situation, a defendant only intends to cause serious physical harm. The result of their action causes the intended victim to not just get hurt, but end up dying. When this happens, there is a good chance a prosecutor will charge the defendant with Manslaughter in the First Degree and not murder. It may be because a prosecutor does not believe they’ll be able to prove the defendant had the intention to cause the death of the victim. The facts will show the perpetrator only intended to cause the victim physical harm. This is a common charge when two people start fighting. During the brawl, the defendant pushes the victim. The victim loses their balance and hits their head on an object. This causes them to lose consciousness. Before help can get to the victim, they bleed to death. It would be difficult to prove the defendant’s intention was to kill. Intent is an essential element of Manslaughter in the First Degree. It can be charged by a prosecutor if they can prove the defendant had no desire to kill the victim, but the death happened due to the defendant’s actions.

Second Scenario

The other scenario is often called a heat of passion killing. In this situation, a person becomes so emotional they lose control and kill someone with the intention of doing so because of their hyper-emotional state of mind. This often occurs when an individual comes home and discovers their spouse or partner cheating on them with another person. They become enraged and are not able to control their anger. In a hyper-emotional mental state, they kill one or both people. The intent to kill is present. When the totality of the circumstances is taken into consideration, the action should be less than murder. In order for this scenario to apply, the defendant must have committed the murder during the hyper-emotional state. When something occurs to get someone in an emotional state to kill, and then a cooling off period occurs, an individual is considered to have regained control of their emotions. If the murder occurs after this happens, it will require planning and will be charged as murder.


In order for a person to be found guilty of Manslaughter in the First Degree, it must be proven the defendant did intend to harm someone but did not intend to take their life. If a person is found guilty, they will be convicted of a class B felony. In New York, they could be incarcerated for up to 25 years. A guilty verdict could also result in a person being given fines that are financially devastating.


One of the most effective legal defenses for individuals charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree is insufficient intent to cause the victim physical harm. It is also important to be able to show the defendant did not intend to cause the victim any harm at all. An experienced criminal attorney will know how to show the victim’s death was an unfortunate accident.

Anyone in New York charged with Manslaughter in the First Degree should seek representation from an experienced defense attorney. They will know how to expose any type of weakness in a prosecutor’s case. Being represented by a knowledgeable attorney could mean the difference between freedom and doing serious time in prison.

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