Manslaughter, in criminal law, the unlawful killing of a person without malicious intent and therefore without premeditation. A typical example of manslaughter is a death resulting from the reckless driving of an automobile.
The absence of malice and premeditation distinguishes manslaughter from murder. Statutory definitions of manslaughter vary from state to state and, in sum, include every kind of homicide that, on the one hand, is not murder and, on the other hand, is not justifiable or excusable.
In common law, manslaughter was of two kinds, voluntary and involuntary. The former signified an unintentional killing of sudden heat or passion resulting from a provocation that palliated the offense, as when the person killed had grossly insulted, wronged, or quarreled with the slayer. Involuntary manslaughter was an unintentional homicide resulting from the commission of a misdemeanor or from the negligent performance of a lawful act.
The distinction between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is retained in the statutes of a number of states. In other states degrees of manslaughter, corresponding approximately to the common-law distinctions, are recognized. In still other states, further distinctions are made, and as many as four degrees of manslaughter are recognized.
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