What Is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?


If you’re a true crime enthusiast, you may be surprised to hear that there are 19,510 homicides in the US each year. After all, this seems like a fairly low number considering the high crime rates of major cities!

You’re right to think this. The reason that the number is much lower than expected is that it doesn’t account for a large percentage of those killed as a result of others’ actions: manslaughter victims. But what is the difference between murder and manslaughter? That’s what we’re going to talk about here today. Read on to learn the definition of murder vs manslaughter and the legal avenues that those accused of both crimes can go down! 

Defining Murder vs Manslaughter

Before we can take a look at the difference between murder and manslaughter, it’s important that you know the legal definitions of each term.

‘Murder,’ legally known as ‘murder in the first degree,’ is when one intentionally ends the life of another human being. Murder is premeditated and carried out when a person has full knowledge and understanding of what they are doing. It is done with the intent to kill someone.

‘Manslaughter,’ on the other hand, is not fully intentional. Commonly known as ‘murder in the second degree,’ manslaughter is the result of recklessness. It is done when a person takes reckless action that results in the death of another. Recklessness can take multiple forms, including criminal negligence, intoxication that leads to another’s unintentional death (usually via drunk driving), and temporary insanity such as ‘crimes of passion.’ An assault that kills the victim when the intent was simply to hurt them is also commonly considered manslaughter.

What Is the Legal Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Looking at these definitions, it makes sense to wonder where the legal distinction is drawn. After all, someone who consumes alcohol and gets in the car surely knew that they may kill someone!

In this instance, the crime that the person should be accused of is still manslaughter. The drunk driver did not intend to kill anyone- they simply ended up doing so because of their recklessness. This means that they would be guilty of murder in the second degree rather than the first degree.

But what about someone who kills a person in a barfight because they kissed their significant other? That sounds intentional, right?

Once again, this falls under the manslaughter umbrella. Unless it can be proven that the assailant went to the bar with the intention to kill the victim- which, in this scenario, is unlikely- the homicide was not intentional. There was no premeditation whatsoever and it also likely can’t be proven that the assault was intended to kill.

This would likely be classified as a ‘crime of passion,’ which is manslaughter committed in the heat of the moment as a result of temporary insanity.

Each state of the US also has different laws for where the line between murder and manslaughter is drawn. If you have been accused of one of these crimes, it’s important that you ask an attorney from your state about this.

Can Someone Be Accused of Other Crimes With Murder or Manslaughter?

Both murder and manslaughter almost always come with other criminal charges. Assault almost always goes hand in hand with either charge. This makes sense when you consider that people who were murdered had their physical boundaries violated by an assailant that attempted to cause harm (and succeeded).

Other charges can also accompany murder and manslaughter. For example, intoxicated manslaughter usually carries DUI or DWI charges or public intoxication ones. 

Many people who commit first-degree murder also are given manslaughter charges in addition to murder ones. Because you cannot be accused and sentenced for the same crime twice, however, the sentences for these charges will be served at the same time rather than consecutively.

What Are the Penalties for Each?

Manslaughter may have lesser penalties than murder, but they still are nothing to scoff at. A person accused of manslaughter has mandatory sentencing of 40 years in prison. Often, however, they are sentenced to life with or without parole.

Convicted murder suspects often receive life without parole. This is the mandatory sentencing for this crime. However, in death penalty states, the condemned may be sent to death row in extreme cases.

How Can a Lawyer Help You?

If you have been arrested for murder and want to prove that the case was manslaughter, there is legal help for you. There is also legal assistance for those that are wrongly accused of either crime. The most common type of help comes in the form of an intoxication manslaughter attorney since so many manslaughter cases are the result of drunken recklessness.

Attorneys can help you gain a greater understanding of your legal rights as an accused party. Assuming that you choose an experienced and qualified lawyer, you will have ample opportunity to prove your innocence both inside and outside of the courtroom.

A lawyer knows more about the law than you do and will have the knowledge required to combat a claim. They also will take care of the paperwork that can be used in court for you. Basically, there are a multitude of reasons that talking to an attorney is a good first step to combatting any claim.

More Information

While murder and manslaughter may sound similar at first brush, there are acute legal differences that make them very different crimes.

Now that you know the difference between murder and manslaughter, it’s time to get more information on what you can do to combat a claim. Check out the ‘law’ section under the business tab on our homepage. Here, you’ll find more information on how to find an attorney that’s right for your individual case.

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