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Paul D. Cramm

In Legal Terms, How Does the State Differentiate between Homicide, Manslaughter and Murder?


Interviewer: What are the major differences between the terms homicide, manslaughter and murder?

Paul Cramm: Those terms will all be defined on a state-by-state basis. Some states will use the terms literally interchangeably. It’s very important to make sure that you have the correct statute or the law for the state in which you are charged.

In Kansas, a Death Resulting from Conduct beyond Ordinary Negligence Will Result in a Charge of Vehicular Homicide

As far as Kansas law is concerned, any death arising from the operation of a vehicle that’s the result of simple or ordinary negligence will not result in criminal charges. If someone is found to be guilty of conduct that rises above ordinary negligence, they could be charged with vehicular homicide, which is a Class A misdemeanor offense.

The main difference is that in order to be guilty of the misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge, the prosecutor needs to prove that the person operated their vehicle, the statute says, in a manner which creates an unreasonable risk of injury. Essentially, their action constitutes a material deviation from the standard of care.

Operating a Vehicle in a Manner That Shows Reckless Disregard Will Result in a Charge of Involuntary Manslaughter

We need to have material deviation from the standard of care and unreasonable risk of injury. Those two factors would support the misdemeanor vehicular homicide charge. In order to support the involuntary manslaughter charge, the prosecutor needs to establish or prove that the person operated their vehicle in a manner that showed a reckless disregard for the safety of others. Recklessness is the determining factor for the more serious felony charge.

Scenarios That Can Result in Vehicular Homicide Charges

Interviewer: Let’s get an overview about vehicular homicides. Could you give us several possible scenarios of a situation, including common homicides to less than common homicides?

Paul Cramm: A vehicular homicide can be the result of someone disregarding a stop sign, travels through a stop sign, although they may not be deliberately racing through the stop sign. Maybe they just don’t realize it’s there. Clearly, I think the law would say that an ordinary driver exercising ordinary diligence for the roadway would be aware of traffic signs or traffic lights.

Excessive Speed Is a Factor

It’s possible that a prosecutor or could pursue the misdemeanor charge if someone simply fails to stop at a stop sign or fails to stop at a red light. When we see cases where the prosecutor will charge the more serious involuntary manslaughter, those are cases where we have excessive speed, 60 to 70 miles an hour in count in a 30 or 40 mile an hour zone.

Any evidence that would support that two people engaged in some sort of a race or a speed contest, either formally or informally. If we are racing each other down the roadway, that type of behavior will typically support the more serious manslaughter charge. That would be a situation where it should be clear to the drivers that what they are doing is dangerous and they disregard that danger.

The Factors Surrounding the Accident Determine Which Charge a Driver Will Face

Interviewer: What are the factors between the two charges of vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter?

In Some Cases, Age Can Be an Attributing Factor Due to Certain Driving Patterns among Different Demographics

Paul Cramm: Which charge someone will face depends on the factors surrounding the accident. I do think that with regard to the more significant risk-taking behavior, I guess if we were to plot that out, you would see a larger number of younger drivers.

This is perhaps they tend to be aggressive drivers engaged in the more significant risk-taking behavior. Additionally, you might see the older, less attentive drivers, who would be accused of the misdemeanor charge, which would only require material deviation from the standard of care.

We could look at the misdemeanor charge as one of inattentiveness as opposed to the involuntary manslaughter charge, which is one of a knowing or deliberate disregard for safety.

Paul D. Cramm

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