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What’s the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter in Pennsylvania?

April 23, 2019

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

In February of 2019, Ryan Taylor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Danee Mower. Taylor and Mower were with other friends along the edge of the Lackawanna River when Mower drowned while face down in the shallows. Taylor stated during trial that he had blacked out after smoking synthetic marijuana. The prosecution claimed he grabbed Mower by her ankles and flipped her into the water during an argument.

While a jury decided Taylor was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecution was seeking a conviction for murder in the first or third degree. So, what’s the difference between the two?

Involuntary Manslaughter in Pennsylvania

According to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 2504, involuntary manslaughter occurs when one person kills another person, but did not have the intent to kill. The statute is in place to penalize those that take another’s life, even when they had no intention of doing so.

Driving recklessly, driving while intoxicated, and child neglect and abuse are all common actions that result in involuntary manslaughter charges. In order to prove this charge at trial, the state prosecution must show that the defendant acted with gross negligence and caused the death of another person.

In order to prove gross negligence, the prosecution may argue the defendant knowingly ignored a danger, or did not behave in a reasonable manner. If a direct link is not made between the actions of the defendant and the death of the victim, the prosecution has not proven a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Pennsylvania involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor. Those convicted could face up to five years in prison. When the act of involuntary manslaughter was committed by a parent, caregiver, or other custodian of a child under the age of 12, the charges are often increased to a second-degree felony.

Murder in Pennsylvania

The legal statute 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Section 2502 outlines three different types of murder charges in Pennsylvania.

First-degree murder is the most heinous crime of all murder charges. It involves murder either by poisoning, laying in wait, or other premeditated act. Upon conviction, an individual will face either life imprisonment or the death penalty. This is decided at a sentencing hearing after conviction.

Second-degree murder is considered a crime of passion in Pennsylvania. This charge recognizes that a person did intentionally kill another, but that they did not plan on doing so until they were in the heat of the moment. This carries a life sentence for those convicted.

Third-degree murder is any type of murder that does not fit the definition of manslaughter, or first or second degree murder. The penalty for third-degree murder is typically a prison sentence up to 20 years.

Contact a Philadelphia Murder Defense Attorney for Your Best Chance at Beating Charges

Being charged with murder or involuntary manslaughter seems like a hopeless situation. Those charged worry about their freedom, their reputation, and may feel guilty about a death even when there was nothing they could do to stop it. Our criminal defense lawyers in Pennsylvania know this and want to help.

If you or someone you love has been accused of involuntary manslaughter or murder, your life is on the line. You need help and you can get it today by calling van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim at (215) 486-0123. We will review your case and help you build a strong defense to give you the best chance at a successful outcome in court. You need to fight these charges, and we want to be on your side throughout that fight.



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