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What Is the Difference Between Murder & Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is an unlawful killing that doesn’t involve premeditated malice or the intent to seriously harm or kill. The absence of malice makes manslaughter a lesser charge than first or second degree murder. Although manslaughter is a serious crime, its consequences are generally less severe than murder.¬† Below, we explain more about the differences between murder and manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter 

There are two types of manslaughter charges: voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. Sometimes called a “heat of passion,” voluntary manslaughter happens when a person is aggressively provoked and kills someone in a heat of passion caused by the provocation.

In order for “heat of passion” to be present, the person who committed the killing cannot have had enough time to calm down from the provocation. When a killing isn’t considered first or second degree murder, it is usually a concession that is attributed to human weakness. Although a person who acts in the heat of passion might intentionally kill someone, their emotional context is a mitigating factor that reduces their moral blame.

A classic case of voluntary manslaughter would be the story of the husband who comes home from work early to find his wife committing adultery. Seeing the affair provokes the husband into a heat of passion and he kills the other adulterer then and there. Under these circumstances, a judge or jury might come to the conclusion that the killing is voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter?

Involuntary manslaughter generally refers to unintentional homicide caused by criminally negligent acts or reckless conduct. Essentially, the death was caused by reckless behavior that a reasonable person would have avoided. Involuntary manslaughter sometimes refers to an unintentional killing from a commissioned crime other than a felony.

The subtle differences between murder and manslaughter are at their highest when it comes to involuntary manslaughter. This is because an accidental killing caused by extreme recklessness can be considered second degree murder. Determining which charge applies rests entirely on an evaluation of how careless the defendant was, which can be a difficult and subjective task.

Unintentional second degree murder is also known as:

  • Implied Malice Murder
  • Abandoned & Malignant Heart Murder
  • Depraved Mind Murder

The main issue when it comes to determining if a killing is murder or manslaughter, is figuring out what was in a defendant’s mind at the time of the reckless act. Courts and juries have to rely on what the circumstances of the killing reveal about the defendant’s state of mind.

Are you facing murder or manslaughter charges? We can help. Contact our Dayton team of criminal defense attorneys to set up a case evaluation today.


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