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Manslaughter in Wisconsin Limiting factors and mens rea

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice. The state of Wisconsin does not define manslaughter as a crime and often uses other statutes to charge a defendant. The most common charges analogous to manslaughter in Wisconsin are first-degree/second-degree intentional homicide or second-degree reckless homicide. Wisconsin statute 940.05 provisions voluntary manslaughter charges. Wisconsin statutes 940.06 - 940.10 establish provisions for various involuntary manslaughter charges. The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter lies in the intent of the killing. If the killing was intentional, it was voluntary. If it was not, but rather came about from recklessness or the like, it is involuntary. 


In order to be convicted for a criminal offense of this sort the prosecution will have to establish a mens rea and an actus reus, also known as criminal intent and the criminal act. The defense to a manslaughter analogous crime in Wisconsin can hinge upon the defendant’s state of mind. Without a mens rea or an actus reus the defendant will be acquitted. 


What are the levels of mens rea?


There are four levels of mens rea which are used to determine the severity of punishment if established. The levels of mens rea are ranked hierarchically and carry separate burdens of proof in order to be established. 


  • Acting purposely, acting with intent. If this level is established it will carry the most severe sentence. 

  • Acting knowingly. This occurs when a defendant is aware their actions will have a certain result and proceeds anyway. 

  • Acting recklessly. When a defendant acts in a way with an active disregard for substantial and unjustified risk. 

  • Acting negligently. If a defendant acts in a way that fails to meet the reasonable standard of behavior for those circumstances, they have acted negligently. This level of mens rea is the mildest. 


How does mens rea affect a manslaughter analogous charge?


Manslaughter analogous crimes are serious and will carry decades-long sentences if proven beyond a reasonable doubt. A strong defense in part will challenge the prosecution's establishment of a mens rea and if done so properly can achieve an acquittal. A defense that includes challenging a mens rea requires an experienced criminal defense attorney who can navigate the subtleties and nuances of Wisconsin criminal law. Serious charges require serious attorneys who have a complete understanding of the legal environment in order to achieve a favorable outcome. 


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If you or a loved one have been charged with a serious criminal offense like manslaughter, you need a team capable of providing the strongest defense possible. The criminal defense attorneys at Grieve Law are experienced in homicide cases. Our attorneys will fight to help you achieve a favorable outcome. Schedule a free consultation today to discuss the facts of your case.

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