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Murder v. Manslaughter

Key Takeaways:

  • Murder is a more serious charge than manslaughter and can result in the death penalty or life imprisonment.
  • Involuntary manslaughter can involve a fatal accident caused by reckless driving or drunk driving.
  • Someone accused of murder can also face civil damages in a wrongful death lawsuit.

Homicide is the killing of another person. However, there are different types of homicide, including murder and manslaughter. A person who kills another human being can face several criminal charges or with no crime at all. For example, killing someone in self-defense can be an affirmative defense to murder.

There are significant differences between different homicide charges. Various forms of homicide can carry different criminal penalties. Murder can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty. For more information about murder vs. manslaughter, talk to a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

Murder and Manslaughter Charges

Each state defines different murder charges or types of manslaughter. In general, the main differences between manslaughter and murder are as follows.

  • Manslaughter is killing someone without planning the crime ahead of time or in a situation where killing was not intentional.
  • Murder is killing someone by planning the crime ahead of time.

The different criminal charges you can face for causing someone’s death include:

In some states, there are different degrees of murder. Some states also recognize third-degree murder. Attempted murder can carry the same criminal penalties as actual murder.

What Is First-Degree Murder?

First-degree murder is the most severe homicide charge you can face for taking the life of another person. Typically, first-degree murder involves premeditated killing. Depending on the state, this can require “malice aforethought.”

Some states charge a defendant with first-degree murder if the murder was both premeditated and involved special circumstances. This includes:

  • Killing a police officer
  • Multiple murders
  • Particularly outrageous actions
  • Depraved actions

First-degree murder can result in a life sentence. States that impose the death penalty may refer to murder with a potential death sentence as capital murder. Capital murder charges can also include murder for financial gain or murder as a hate crime.

What Is Second-Degree Murder?

The definition of second-degree murder can depend on state laws. In general, second-degree murder is an intentional killing without premeditation. In some states, intending severe bodily harm but causing death can lead to a second-degree murder charge. In others, demonstrating an extreme indifference to human life is second-degree murder.

Is There Third-Degree Murder?

Only a few states have third-degree murder under criminal law. States that can charge defendants with third-degree murder typically do so for any murder that is not a first or second-degree murder. It can also cover unintentional killings involving inherently dangerous behavior. In Minnesota, someone can face third-degree murder charges if they sold drugs to someone who overdosed.

What Is Felony Murder?

Some states also charge a defendant with first-degree murder if the killing happened during a violent felony such as rape or robbery. This is felony murder. You can also be charged with felony murder if your co-conspirator in a crime causes someone’s death.

For example, if three people rob a bank and one person kills a security guard in the process, all of the robbers can be charged with felony murder. Even if a co-conspirator dies during the criminal act, you can be charged with felony murder for their death.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when someone may have intended to kill the victim, but there were special circumstances.

For example, if someone comes across a cheating spouse and kills the other person in the heat of passion, it is not treated as harshly as first-degree murder. If a parent kills someone who abused their child in the heat of the moment, they may be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

The separate charge comes from the idea that they should be held responsible if they kill the adulterer or child abuser but shouldn’t be punished to the same degree as a murderer who kills without provocation. This is an unlawful killing, but it is not considered the same as a murder charge.

What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter is often the charge if the person had not intended to kill or commit a crime. This includes criminal negligence or extreme recklessness that resulted in a death. This is often the charge if a drunk driver kills another person in an auto accident. The DUI driver did not intend to take a life but acted with reckless disregard for others while driving drunk. This is also known as vehicular manslaughter.

Are There Other Consequences in Homicide Cases?

There may be civil charges related to a homicide case. If you are accused of taking another person’s life, their loved ones may file a wrongful death lawsuit. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the victim’s beneficiaries can get money for compensatory and punitive damages.

The burden of proof in a civil case is lower than in a criminal case. Even if you are not found guilty in the criminal case, you can still be liable in civil court. In the O.J. Simpson case, Simpson was not convicted of murder, but a civil court jury found him liable for more than $30 million in damages to the victim’s family.

How Can a Criminal Defense Lawyer Help With Murder or Manslaughter?

A criminal defense lawyer can represent you in a murder or manslaughter case. Your attorney can review your case and explain your legal options. Your lawyer can also negotiate with the prosecutor to reduce the charges or avoid the most severe criminal penalties. Consult with a criminal defense attorney about the legal defense options available in your case.

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