When you or someone you love is facing serious charges following a death, the legal terminology and possibilities can be overwhelming. If you’re finding yourself swirling over manslaughter vs. homicide or murder vs. manslaughter, you’re not alone.
Let’s cover the differences between these three terms, and how the circumstances behind them can impact degrees of guilt and final sentencing.
Homicide: The Broadest Category
Homicide is a term for anytime a person kills another person. Although you might hear homicide used interchangeably with murder or manslaughter, those terms are actually different types of homicide. Further, sometimes homicide occurs but is not considered a crime or even worthy of punishment.
Unlawful Killing vs. Lawful Killing
Homicide can be lawful or unlawful, depending on the circumstances. Unlawful killing includes the things that typically come to mind when we hear homicide: killing someone out of greed, anger, disregard, etc.
Lawful killing includes situations where homicide happens in self defense or as part of a lawful job. If you kill someone who was trying to kill, hurt, rape, or otherwise assault you, it is lawful. If you are a soldier and kill another soldier in battle, it is lawful. If you work as an executioner for a state that allows capital punishment, those killings are lawful.
Degrees of Intent
In the case of an unlawful homicide, a person’s intentions are considered. Carefully planning how to end another person’s life because they made you unhappy is treated differently than accidentally killing someone during another activity.
During homicide legal proceedings, you may hear the term mens rea. Meaning “guilty mind” in Latin, mens rea refers to the intentions and state of mind of a defendant. The court will typically examine the offender’s mens rea along with the facts of the case to determine level of guilt and an appropriate repercussion.
Note that it’s not only actions that lead to homicide. It’s possible for inaction to result in someone’s death and a homicide charge. Examples might be passively watching as a child runs into traffic or neglecting an owned building until the roof falls in on someone.
Murder: The Deliberate Act
Murder is the deliberate, unlawful killing of another person. While the degree of intention and forethought may vary, and the consequences range from a couple of years to life in prison, murder indicates the worst types of homicide.
Elements of Murder
To be considered murder, a homicide involves intent and premeditation. While the goal and plan to kill certainly meets that definition, the method of killing, and what the deceased person experienced before dying, also inform the level of guilt and consequence.
Another term you may hear is malice aforethought. Malice is the intention and ability to do evil, and malice aforethought is intentionally killing another person.
Degrees of Murder
Murder charges include a degree, such as first or second. They may also qualify as capital or felony murders.
- First-degree murder is when someone kills with intention and premeditation. Using certain weapons, such as explosives, poison, or armor-piercing ammunition bolster a first-degree charge. Typically, first-degree murder results in 25 years to life in prison.
- Second-degree murder is when someone kills someone intentionally, without
premeditation, but with an action that is intentionally and very likely fatal. An example might be shooting a gun into a crowd or fatally wounding a kidnapping victim when they try to escape. Typically, second-degree murder results in 15 years to life in prison.
- Capital murder is a form of first-degree murder that’s especially egregious. Examples include hate crimes, murdering a public servant (firefighter, police officer, judge, etc.), and murder for financial gain. Typically, capital murder results in life in prison and, potentially, capital punishment.
- Felony murder is a first- or second-degree murder that happens while the offender is committing another felony, such as arson, rape, or kidnapping. Anyone involved in committing the felony may be charged with felony murder, even if they weren’t directly involved with the killing. Typically, felony murder results in 15 or 25 years to life in prison.
- Attempted murder is when someone tries to kill another in a way that would have resulted in murder (had it been successful). Because attempted murder is all about intention and ability, the charge can occur even if no one comes close to actual harm. Attempted murder can be first- or second-degree and typically results in two to nine years in prison.
Manslaughter: The Unplanned Killing
Manslaughter is killing someone without any plan to do so, and usually with some form of provocation, through recklessness or negligence, or by accident.
Manslaughter charges are categorized as voluntary, involuntary, or vehicular.
Often called a “crime of passion,” voluntary manslaughter is willful but not premeditated. Although this sounds similar to second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter involves some sort of provocation that leads the offender to take fatal action.
For example, if a person catches their partner in bed with someone else and immediately pulls out a gun, shoots, and kills one of them, it’s voluntary manslaughter. Another example is killing someone while driving recklessly with road rage after another driver does something dangerous.
Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser crime than murder but still considered a felony. Defendants may wind up with up to 11 years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter is killing someone without malice, intention, or premeditation. While some might use the word “accident,” the reality is that even involuntary manslaughter usually involves recklessness, negligence, or disregard for human life.
Someone who commits involuntary manslaughter might do so as an unintended part of an illegal act, such as a minor drug offense. However, involuntary manslaughter can also happen during a careless, but legal, activity that comes with significant risk of bodily harm or death.
The penalty for involuntary manslaughter is two to four years in prison.
If someone kills another person on the roadways, it’s most often considered vehicular manslaughter. In a typical fatal car crash, a driver does something illegal (or at least careless) that causes the death of one or more people. However, the defendant usually had no intention of hurting anyone and so is not charged with murder.
Depending on the circumstances, vehicular manslaughter might be a felony or misdemeanor. A vehicular manslaughter felony means up to 10 years in prison, while a vehicular manslaughter misdemeanor means up to one year in prison.
In some cases, the incident is not considered a crime and gets sorted in the civil (rather than criminal) courts.
Factors Influencing Manslaughter Charges
Because manslaughter is unplanned and often fully unintentional, it’s important for the courts to weigh several factors unique to each case:
- Recklessness and criminal negligence indicate an intentional disregard for human life. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, leaving a toddler unsupervised, or physical altercations with a disabled person are just some examples.
- Provocation and “the heat of passion” are detrimental to thinking clearly and acting responsibly in the moment. If someone kills another out of immediate fear for their livelihood, relationships, or future, their intent is not as weighty as premeditated murder.
- Unintentional killing during a crime might surprise the offender as much as the victim. For example, if a robber unexpectedly meets the homeowner and, without much thought, pulls out a gun and shoots, they aren’t tried the same as someone who enters a bank and starts shooting at random.
Key Factors Contributing to Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter Charges
When it comes to manslaughter vs. homicide or murder vs. manslaughter, from a legal standpoint, it’s helpful to understand some key factors.
Intent and State of Mind
The greater the intention to kill, and the more mentally and physically equipped a person is to do it, the more serious the charge.
Preceding Circumstances and Motivation
Self defense is an understandable motivation for using lethal force. Anger at your spouse for cheating is, to some degree, notable but not enough to excuse the charge. Planning and succeeding at shooting someone over differing political beliefs is extremely difficult to defend.
Legal Consequences and Penalties
The ultimate difference for someone facing a homicide charge is the prison time. One careless move behind the wheel and a wrongful death charge might mean financial and emotional costs. But killing a neighbor over a property dispute could mean life in prison.
Contact Vindicate Criminal Law Group When Facing Homicide Charges
Homicide, murder, and manslaughter have different legal meanings, and run the gamut from felony to non-criminal charges. Whatever your case may be, going up against the courts on your own is unwise; the last thing you need is to look underprepared.
Defining and classifying homicide, murder, and manslaughter in legal contexts in highly complex, and numerous factors go into determining guilt and sentencing.
Working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer and legal team is your best bet against maximum penalties. We work tirelessly to preserve your rights, operate with respect, and consider your future options.
To get started today, call or text (888) 212-4824 or complete the simple contact form on our website.