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The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Experienced Attorney

We often hear the word “murder” on television shows and in news stories. When this word is used, we know that it means one or more people have killed one or more other human beings. Another term that may be used to describe this occurrence is “homicide,” which in itself isn’t considered a criminal act. Homicide does entail lawful killing, such as when someone uses self-defense.

Intentional killing, state-sanctioned killing during a war, and manslaughter are viewed as unlawful and the offender may reap serious consequences for life. Manslaughter is when the killing of another person happens without malice aforethought.

Here, we explain further the differences between a murder and manslaughter:

The Degrees of Murder

Murder is a crime which entails killing a human being intentionally, unlawfully, with malice aforethought, and sometimes in conjunction with the intent to commit a felony. Murder includes felony murder, unpremeditated murder, and premeditated murder. While murder laws to vary slightly by state, most acknowledge these degrees of murder: 

  • First Degree Murder (Premeditated): the defendant had planned to kill the other person. 
  • Second Degree Murder (Unpremeditated): the defendant did not plan to kill the other person, but an altercation resulted in another’s death. 
  • Felony Murder: the defendant had killed another person while engaging in a criminal activity, such as armed robbery, burglary, arson, drug crimes, DUI, kidnapping, DUI, rape, robbery, and domestic violence.

Cases of murder may have aggravating circumstances, in which the incident was committed through laying in wait or targeting an individual in a high status. For instance, someone who killed a firefighter, judge, or member of law enforcement may be subject to more severe consequences.

How Manslaughter is Defined

Manslaughter is a less severe form of murder, where someone killed another without malice aforethought. In other words, a person died but the offender did not have the conscious intent to harm them, and he or she was not in an evil or depraved state of mind. There are several types of manslaughter, which have been defined below: 

  • Intoxication Manslaughter: a person was under the influence and caused the death of another. 
  • Vehicular Manslaughter: a car driver had caused the death of those in another vehicle due to a car crash and had no intent to kill or cause severe bodily harm to them. May also be referred to as “gross negligence.”
  • Voluntary Manslaughter: murder is reduced to a manslaughter charge because of mitigating factors, such as a person was under diminished capacity or acted due to heat of passion. 
  • Involuntary Manslaughter: unintentional homicide due to reckless behavior or criminally-negligent conduct. 

If you or someone you love was arrested and is now facing a murder or manslaughter conviction, is it important that you obtain legal representation immediately. These cases tend to be very complex, and often require the experience of a seasoned criminal defense attorney, like a criminal defense attorney in Fairfax, VA. Many reputable law firms offer free consultations, so there’s no risk in contacting a law office near you for a case evaluation. 

Thanks to May Law, LLP for their insight into the difference between murder and manslaughter. 



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