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What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2024 | blog, Criminal Defense

The distinction between murder and manslaughter sometimes confuses defendants. Both involve the unlawful killing of another person, but the intent behind the act and circumstances surrounding the death play pivotal roles in differentiating the two.

Those facing judgment over someone’s passing should understand the difference.

What defines murder?

Murder occurs when someone intentionally takes a person’s life with premeditation or malice aforethought. This means the perpetrator is responsible for planning the killing, thus showing a deliberate choice. Murder charges vary in degree depending on factors such as the nature of the plan, the accused’s state of mind and the circumstances of the crime.

First-degree murder includes instances where there is distinct premeditation. An example would be plotting to kill someone and then carrying out that plan. Second-degree murder, while still intentional, might not involve forethought. It can occur in the heat of the moment, driven by a sudden and overwhelming urge to kill without prior intention.

What defines manslaughter?

Manslaughter involves killing another person without the same level of intent characteristic of murder. The two types are voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter occurs in the “heat of passion.” This means the perpetrator did not intend to kill but did so in a moment of strong emotion that could make a reasonable person lose self-control. An example would be an individual who finds their partner in a compromising situation and subsequently reacts.

Involuntary manslaughter involves unintentional killing as a result of recklessness or criminal negligence. This might happen when someone commits a nonfelony, such as driving over the speed limit and causing a deadly crash.

What distinguishes murder from manslaughter?

The main difference between murder and manslaughter lies in the intent and circumstances. Murder requires a deliberate intention to end a life. Manslaughter, on the other hand, encompasses lesser degrees of intention. It can result from acting under strong emotions or negligent behavior that accidentally causes a loss of life.

The severity of punishment depends, in part, on which charge a defendant receives. Therefore, it is in one’s interest for the plaintiff to pick one over the other.