Unlike murder there is no mandatory sentence for manslaughter. Sentencing is at the judge’s discretion and where Provocation was an issue, within certain guidelines prescribed by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment. However, the judge may impose a lesser sentence, including a prison sentence (typically 2-10 years), suspended imprisonment (the sentence can be suspended for up to two years and the offender is given the chance to stay out of trouble and comply with up to 12 requirements set by the court) or community service. In the case of corporate manslaughter (where an organisation is convicted of causing the death) the punishment will be a fine.
The defendant is sentenced after he or she has either pleaded guilty to the offence or been found guilty by the jury.
The following will be taken into consideration before passing sentence:
- Level of culpability: was the offence involuntary or voluntary manslaughter? Are there any mitigating / aggravating circumstances?
- Whether the defendant poses a threat to the public.
- How best to rehabilitate the defendant and deter them from committing another crime.
- A guilty plea: If the defendant pleads guilty the judge will reduce the sentence by up to one third depending on how early the plea was made.
- Circumstances and history of the defendant: does the defendant have any previous convictions? How old are they?
Prison sentences are complex. If a life sentence is imposed the judge will set a ‘tariff’ (a minimum amount of time that a person must serve in prison before they can be released on parole). If the offender is no longer considered a threat to the public, he or she will be released subject to certain conditions.
The imposition of a life sentence is discretionary and relatively unusual as the level of culpability is much lower than that found in a murder conviction. If the judge decides that he or she does not need to impose such a sentence, he or she does have a full range of alternative sentencing options, which can include suspended sentences or community based sentences. Where a fixed term prison sentence is imposed, offenders serve half their sentence in prison and half in the community but remain subject to recall to prison if they breach the terms of their release on licence.
In certain cases where the offender may be suffering from some mental illness or disability of mind, it is possible that a manslaughter conviction arises from a defendant pleading guilty to the offence on the grounds that they are suffering from “diminished responsibility”. The Court may decide that a Hospital Order is the appropriate sentence, whereby the offender is detained in a secure Mental Health Hospital for as long as it is deemed necessary for their treatment. The issue of “diminished responsibility” is a complex one and raises complex issues of medical evidence and what disposal is appropriate considering all the circumstances of the case.
Sentencing is always contentious in regards to manslaughter. The harm caused by any offence that results in a death is immeasurable and often the public can be quick to anger, especially when courts hand out sentences that are seen as too lenient.
During a sentencing hearing the prosecution address the court outlining the facts of the case, and are then followed by the defence. The defence put forward their mitigation, which seeks to explain the circumstances leading to the commission of the offence in the most favourable light; identifying key elements to what may have contributed to the offence and the pertinent background. It is imperative to work with your solicitor throughout the case so you have the best chance to achieve a more favourable outcome, based on the evidence provided. Lawtons Solicitors has the specialism and experience to help and guide you through the whole process.