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Deadly Assault: Manslaughter or Murder?

16-Mar-2015

 Bar fights are nothing unusual. In excess, alcohol lessens inhibitions, spurs impulsiveness, and hinders rational decision-making. Many times, this combination makes people easily offended and easily angered, a combination which can quickly lead to aggression. In some cases, a late night fight ends with the involved parties being kicked out of the establishment and sent home. In many cases, the fight ends with an assault arrest for one or more of the involved parties. If, however, someone is seriously injured in a fight and dies, the surviving brawler is arrested and charged with murder.

Last week, a man who got in a fight at an Oklahoma City pool hall and ultimately ran over the person with whom he fought was acquitted of a first degree murder charge, but sentenced to 12 years in prison on a first degree manslaughter charge.

Last summer, a man died after a single blow to the face at an Oklahoma City bar. David Bales is charged with aggravated assault and battery and first degree manslaughter after he struck a 27-year-old man, who died from the injury. Witness accounts vary, with some saying the defendant reacted in self-defense to the victim licking his face, and others saying the defendant's actions were a violent overreaction to the victim accidentally bumping his table.

Also last summer, a man in Duncan died after a bar fight in which he cracked his head on a table. The man who allegedly landed the punch that caused the fall has been charged with first degree manslaughter. The defendant, Mickey Don Anderson, has a prior criminal record containing multiple charges of public intoxication and DUI.

When someone dies in a fight, how does the district attorney determine what type of homicide charge is filed?

In Oklahoma, there are four types of criminal homicide:

The most serious charge is first degree murder. First degree murder occurs “with malice aforethought,” or the intent to kill another person. However, in addition to premeditated murder and murder-for-hire, there are other acts which are charged as first degree murder, regardless of intent:

  • When a death occurs in the commission of a specified felony
  • When a child dies as a result of child abuse injuries

First degree murder is punishable by death, by life in prison, or by life without parole.

Second degree murder occurs under the following circumstances, according to 21 O.S. § 701.8:

  • When perpetrated by an act imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind, regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual; or
  • When perpetrated by a person engaged in the commission of any felony other than the unlawful acts [defined in the first degree murder statute]

Second degree murder is punishable by 10 years to life.

First degree manslaughter is charged when a person’s actions claim the life of another, but the defendant did not mean to cause another person’s death. First degree manslaughter occurs under the following circumstances:

  • A death occurs in the commission of a misdemeanor
  • A person takes another’s life “in the heat of passion” in a manner that is “cruel and unusual” or through the use of a dangerous weapon
  • A person unnecessarily takes the life of another in attempting to resist a crime

First degree manslaughter has a minimum sentence of 4 years in prison.

The least charge among criminal homicide charges is second degree manslaughter. It is defined as “[e]very killing of one human being by the act, procurement or culpable negligence of another” that does not meet the criteria to be charged as murder or first degree manslaughter, and which is not excusable or justifiable homicide.

Second degree manslaughter is punishable by 2 to 4 years in prison.

 



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