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Murder, manslaughter and homicide: What is the difference?

On Behalf of | Apr 22, 2024 | Violent crimes

In today’s society, many people come by their knowledge of the law through procedural crime shows, documentaries and YouTube videos. Terms such as murder, manslaughter and homicide seem to be used interchangeably, leading some to believe they are the same thing.

However, they are three distinctly different legal terms that have severe implications during a criminal trial.

1. Homicide

Homicide is an umbrella term that refers to any act that ends another person’s life. Homicide isn’t always a crime. For example, in a situation where self-defense resulted in the death of an aggressor, the act may be considered justifiable.

2. Murder

Murder is a form of illegal homicide, which can be further divided in terms of degrees:

A premeditated, deliberate and willful act is first-degree murder. The first-degree designation also applies to death resulting from specific felonies, such as murder, rape, robbery or burglary. The designation can also apply to a homicide that involves the use of poison or lying in wait for the victim.

A conviction of murder in the first degree typically results in the most severe penalties, including life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Second-degree murder refers to homicides that are intentional but not premeditated or planned. It signifies a malicious intent to kill or inflict grievous harm, but there was no forethought or premeditation. The penalties for second-degree murder are less severe than for first-degree but still significant.

3. Manslaughter

Manslaughter is characterized by the lack of malicious intent. It can be categorized into two types:

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person intends to harm someone but not to kill them.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when a death is the unintended consequence of an individual’s reckless or negligent behavior. This can include actions taken with a blatant disregard for human life, even if there was no intent to kill, such as vehicular homicides where the driver was operating their vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The distinction between murder and manslaughter significantly impacts how cases are prosecuted and penalized. Therefore, having a solid defense that visits mitigating factors is crucial to the successful outcome of the case.