Manslaughter and Murder. Both are forms of homicide. However, they are not the same. Both are distinct crimes with differing degrees and types. Each are considered “unlawful” (e.g., as opposed to killing someone in defense of oneself), yet they lead to different ranges of consequences.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Manslaughter is, “The unlawful killing of a human being without express or implied malice.” Legally, manslaughter is an “unjustified and unexcused” crime that is said to have occurred when an individual kills a victim without planning or malicious intent. There are two types of manslaughter: Voluntary and Involuntary.
Voluntary Manslaughter is frequently described as a “heat of passion” offense, occurring in response to some perceived provocation. Specifically, if a reasonable individual experienced an event that led them to become extremely emotionally disturbed, lose control of their conduct, and kill another person. Common examples include road rage and other heated arguments.
Involuntary Manslaughter involves killing an individual due to behavior that was reckless or criminally negligent (i.e., indifferent to human life and extremely inconsistent with behavior expected of a reasonable person in a similar situation). Common examples of such behavior are texting and driving and accidental discharge of a firearm.
Consequences of Manslaughter
As I mentioned before, Manslaughter implies a lack of planning to commit homicide. Therefore, its consequences are less severe than murder. Although Manslaughter is considered a felony at both state and federal levels, resulting State penalties vary across types (e.g., Voluntary or Involuntary) and jurisdiction. Below are some examples of penalties related to a Voluntary Manslaughter conviction across the United States:
|California||11 years prison|
|Florida||15 years in prison; 15 years of probation; $10, 000 fine||Mandatory Minimum of 9.25 years in Prison|
|New York||25 years prison||Mandatory Minimum of 5 years in Prison|
|Texas||20 years prison; $10,000 fine|
Legally, murder is defined as a crime that is intentional, unlawful, and committed with planning prior to the offense. Similar to Manslaughter, Murder has differing degrees. However, instead of a distinction in whether the act was voluntary or not, Murder charges are frequently identified as First or Second Degree. First Degree Murder is sometimes called Premeditated Murder. This implies that some amount of planning went into the crime prior to its occurrence. Second Degree Murder generally applies when there is no evidence that the perpetrator planned the crime prior to its occurrence.
Consequences of Murder
The penalties associated with a Murder conviction vary by jurisdiction. Additionally, with First Degree Murder, aggravating and mitigating factors are considered by the trier of fact during the Guilt and/or Penalty phases of trial. These factors can be used to increase or decrease the ultimate punishment assigned to the perpetrator. Below are some examples of penalties related to murder across the United States:
|State||Maximum Penalty||Capital Punishment||Notes|
|California||25 years to life||Halted in March 2019|
|Florida||Life||Yes, for 1st Degree or Felony Murder||Also acknowledges Felony Murder (Murder during the commission of another Felony)|
|New York||20 years to life prison||Yes|
|Texas||99 years prison; $10,000 fine||Yes, for Capital (premeditated; 9 types) Murder||No 1st or 2nd degree Murder distinction|
The differences between second degree murder and manslaughter rests on whether the homicide occurred during a moment of heightened emotionality and heated passion, without a cooling off period that would have allowed for the defendant to regain composure. If the defendant had time to cool off and then killed the victim, it’s murder. In real life cases, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the difference in a defendant’s state of mind; that is, between explosive anger warranting a manslaughter charge or the result of a simmering desire for revenge that culminated in a homicide, in which case the charge of murder is warranted. The prosecution must consider the attendant circumstances surrounding the killing before and during the commission of the crime before deciding what charge to level against the defendant. A defense attorney will frequently retain a forensic psychologist to conduct a forensic psychological examination to help illuminate the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense.
LaFave, W. R. (2010). Criminal Law. West Publishing