Recently we tried a criminal case where our client was facing significant jail time if…
In a previous blog post, I discussed compromised verdicts for Louisiana battery charges. Another common instance when a jury will return a compromised verdict is for murder charges. In Louisiana, there are several “lesser and included” verdicts possible when someone is accused of murder. It is often the case that when the jury cannot agree on a verdict, they will decide to convict the defendant on a lesser charge.
Second Degree Murder vs. Manslaughter
A good example a verdict of a lesser and included charge is when someone is charged with second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter. In 2018 the LSU basketball player Wayne Simms was killed in what was apparently a street fight in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During that fight, one of the persons involved pulled a gun and shot the LSU basketball player.
The shooter has been charged with second degree murder which carries an automatic life sentence. In other words, if he was convicted of this charge, he will die in prison. A “lesser and included verdict” or a “returnable verdict” to Second Degree Murder is manslaughter.
When the jury receives the criminal charges to go back to make their decision, the jury document will indicate that they can come back with a charge of second degree murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide. These are called “lesser and included verdicts.” These are all murder charges, but differ by degree and intent.
Louisiana Homicide Charges
Negligent homicide is when someone is acting in a grossly negligent manner and they accidentally kill someone. An example of this is an intoxicated driver who operates a vehicle when they shouldn’t and unintentionally causes anothers death. In Louisiana, the criminal charge of negligent homicide carries a sentence of 0-7 years.
Manslaughter is homicide without a specific intent to kill. This would be murder in the heat of the moment without time to reflect and consider. Louisiana manslaughter charges carry a sentence of 0-40 years.
Second degree murder is homicide with a specific intent to kill. This would be murder that is premeditated or when the person is in control of their emotions. The sentence for second degree murder in Louisiana is life in prison.
Back to the basketball case – it was obvious from the news reports that there was a group of individuals involved in a street fight. Therefore, emotions would have been high. This is a classic example of a manslaughter charge. However, the defendant has been charged with second degree murder.
Assuming that the shooter has an experienced criminal lawyer representing him, the lawyer should introduce evidence during trial showing that the defendant was overly excited in the heat of the moment. This should remove the specific intent to kill making the appropriate charge manslaughter. I do not know if the jury will come back with a charge of manslaughter, but these are issues the jury will have to consider when rendering a verdict.
Life in Prison Becomes 13 Months
Approximately 3 years ago in Lafayette Parish, there was a highly publicized case where a young individual shot three other individuals while they were allegedly breaking into his truck. He was charged with second degree murder and faced a possible life sentence. The jury came back with lesser and included verdict of manslaughter. As result, the judge, after looking at the defendant’s record and the circumstances of the charge, sentenced him to 13 months in prison. The experienced trial attorney involved was instrumental in keeping the defendant out of jail for the rest of his life.
If you are charged with a serious crime like second degree battery or murder, you need a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who can introduce the possibility of a lesser and included verdict. Second degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison, while Manslaughter carries of 0-40 years. Plus, if you are convicted of manslaughter but have a minimal or non-existent criminal record, you will likely not receive significant jail time. So it is clear that while a not guilty verdict is the best outcome, a verdict of manslaughter is FAR more preferable an outcome than second degree murder.