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What’s the difference between manslaughter and murder?



First Degree Murder Most states define first-degree murder as an unlawful killing that is:

  1. Willful, meaning there must be specific intent to end human life regardless if the intent corresponds to the actual victim or another;  

  2. Deliberate, in that there was time enough to form the conscious decision to kill; and

  3. Premeditated, in that there was a planned, malicious aforethought.

Second Degree Murder Ordinarily defined as a killing in which:

  1. There was no premeditation or planning;

  2. There was no reasonable “heat of passion;”

  3. There was an obvious lack of concern for human life. 

Voluntary Manslaughter Often called a “heat of passion” crime and usually involves a person being:

  1. Strongly provoked (under the circumstances that a reasonable person would be provoked) 

  2. Kills in the “heat of passion” as a result of that provocation. 

    1. In order for heat of passion to exist, there must not have been any time for the person committing the crime to have been able to calm down from the provocation. The emotional context of the action may be a mitigating factor reducing the person’s blameworthiness. 

    Involuntary Manslaughter Involuntary manslaughter usually involves an unintentional killing resulting from recklessness, criminal negligence or from an act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony. To be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter:

  3. Someone must have been killed as a result of the defendant’s actions

  4. The act was inherently dangerous or done without regard for human life

  5. The defendant could have known his or her conduct was threatening to other people’s lives