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Good Question: What Is Manslaughter?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On Wednesday morning, Ramsey County attorney John Choi announced Officer Jeronimo Yanez would be charged with second degree manslaughter. It carries a maximum sentence of 10 years if convicted.

So, what is manslaughter? Good Question.

Homicide is the general term used to describe the killing of one person by another. Murder and manslaughter the legal terms as defined by law.

Each state has a different set of laws defining murder and manslaughter. In Minnesota, there are 3 degrees of murder and 2 degrees of manslaughter.

Murder generally signals intent, with some caveats. Manslaughter can be considered a crime in the heat of passion or extreme negligence.

"The law punishes people more seriously or less seriously depending on their state of mind," says Joe Freidberg, a criminal defense attorney.

First degree murder is intentional and premeditated. A second degree murder charge is either intentional without premeditation or unintentional if the person is committing another felony at the time. Third degree murder is unintentional and "causes the death of another by perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind."

First degree manslaughter is when someone is provoked in the heat of passion. An example often used to describe this charge is when a person comes home to find their spouse in bed with someone else and kills both people.

Second degree manslaughter is very different from first degree manslaughter because it has to do with being reckless. In Minnesota, second degree manslaughter is defined as causing death "by the person's culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another."

An example often used to describe this charge is when two people are out hunting, one does something negligent and then unintentionally shoots the other.

"The second degree manslaughter are things people do where they don't intend to kill but by the same token, they are very, very seriously negligent," says Friedberg.

The difference between murder and manslaughter is also significant in the sentencing. Maximum murder sentences can range from 25 years to life. The maximum sentence for second degree manslaughter is 10 years. Generally, someone in Minnesota without a prior criminal record would serve four years.

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