Our last post explained the different degrees of murder, but what’s the difference between murder and manslaughter charges?
In our last post, we saw that telling a first degree murder apart from a second degree murder can be easy in some cases – one is premeditated and the other is not but both are intentional and unlawful killings. There is a pretty serious amount of subtlety that goes into classifying murders into degrees. The subtlety behind manslaughter charges is even greater.
A manslaughter charge is a step down from second degree murder. At the moment of a second degree murder, the killer definitely intends to kill the victim or seriously harm the victim, but up to that point in time, the killer had no intention or planning to commit murder. Under our legal system, a second degree murder (one with malice aforethought at the moment of the killing) is less immoral than a first degree murder (one with premeditation or planning for the killing).
The moral blame for manslaughter is even less than it is for second degree murder. Voluntary manslaughter, like second degree murder, is the unlawful killing that occurs in the spur of the moment with no premeditation. The key question for voluntary manslaughter is this: Was the killing committed under circumstances that could have reasonably affected the killer’s state of mind?
For example, killing in self-defense is lawful, but if a man kills an unarmed stranger he mistakes for a threatening mugger, then that man’s belief in self-defense was unreasonable and the killing could be considered voluntary manslaughter. The killing would also be considered voluntary manslaughter if a man was seriously provoked, or if he just walked in on his wife sleeping with another man, or if he encountered any other circumstance that would have caused any reasonable person to become emotionally disturbed. In other words, a “heat of passion” murder is usually a voluntary manslaughter.
An involuntary manslaughter is usually far-removed from the idea of murder. In the case of involuntary manslaughter, the killer has no provable intention to kill, and the death only occurs as a result of serious negligence that results in death. This is why most drunken driving related deaths and many medical malpractice related deaths are typically classified as involuntary manslaughter – the drunken driver as well as the inattentive doctor can both cause deaths simply as a result of recklessness or negligence.
In practice, the difference between criminal charges can be extremely fine and usually end up seriously affecting the sentence that a defendant ultimately receives. No matter what your situation is, you can count on our highly experienced criminal defense attorneys to ensure that you are not overcharged with a serious crime.