Manslaughter vs. Murder: Differences In Intent And Degree

How can a person cause the death of another without the act being considered a murder? In law, it can come down to differences between manslaughter and murder—which comes down to differences in intent and degree.

What does manslaughter mean?

Manslaughter, simply defined, is “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought.” law designates two types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Let’s break these two terms down.

Voluntary manslaughter vs. involuntary manslaughter 

Voluntary manslaughter can refer to when the accused kills a person, but is deemed to have been provoked by the victim, as during the “heat of passion” during an altercation.

Involuntary manslaughter
 generally applies where death is the unintentional (involuntary) consequence of the actions of the accused. Reckless driving, as while texting or after drinking, for instance, can result in the death of other people, but the driver didn’t first set out on the road with deliberate intent to harm them—and so may be considered involuntary manslaughter.

How is murder defined?

Murder is “the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law.” law also distinguishes between two major types, or degrees, of murder: first-degree (murder one) and second-degree (murder two). 

First-degree murder vs. second-degree murder

First-degree murder involves the planning (premeditation) of the act or killing that happens when another crime is being committed (e.g., robbery, arson).

Second-degree murder involves the intent to murder someone, but the murder didn’t take place with deliberation or premeditation beforehand. Let’s say someone got into a major verbal fight with a neighbor and got so angry, they grabbed a gun and shot the person dead. This incident involves intent to kill but not as a result of planning the murder ahead of time.

What is third-degree murder?

Three states—Florida, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania—currently further divide murders into a third degree. The laws vary, but third-degree murder in these states can include felony murders (a killing treated as a murder because, though unintended, it occurred during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, as robbery); most states classify felony murders as first-degree murders. Third-degree murders can also be homicides that occur as a result to indifference to human life (sometimes referred to as depraved-heart murders).