Difference between Murder and Manslaughter

Key difference: Legally, murder is the unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought means that the murderer intended to kill the victim with his entire conscious mind. Murder entails that the person was in full control of his senses and that he wanted to kill the victim and may have premeditated the murder beforehand. Manslaughter also entails homicide, where one takes the life of another. The definition of manslaughter differs in different countries, and is usually gauged on the circumstances under which the killing occurred or on the state of mind of the killer.

The terms murder and manslaughter are often used when somebody is accused of killing someone. These words are thrown around so much in the media, as well as in literature and TV, that someone who is not versed in legal matters is often confused by the different words being used to accuse somebody.

Actually, most people listening to the news don’t really care much to that extent, they may just be curious about the definitions. The just know that the person is accused of killing somebody and must be punished for it. However, contrary to popular belief just killing a human being does not convict a person of murder, it convicts them of homicide. Homicide is the precise legal term for the killing of one person by another. Murder and manslaughter are bifurcations under homicide. So, what do these terms entail?

Legally, murder is the unlawful killing of another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought means that the murderer intended to kill the victim with his entire conscious mind. Murder entails that the person was in full control of his senses and that he wanted to kill the victim and may have premeditated the murder beforehand.

There are various degrees of murder, most commonly:

  • First degree – crimes of exceptional premeditation and/or cruelty
  • Second degree – killing with malice and no respect for the law, but with no prior deliberation
  • Felony murder – an accidental death that occurs during the commission of a felony

Most societies consider murder as one of the most serious crimes a person is capable of and it is a crime worthy of the harshest of punishment. This usually entails a life imprisonment, or in some countries, the death penalty. The seriousness of the crime is measured by the intent of the murderer, with the direst punishment reserved for first degree.

Manslaughter also entails homicide, where one takes the life of another. However, manslaughter is considered to be a slightly less serious crime than murder, but serious nonetheless. The definition of manslaughter differs in different countries, and is usually gauged on the circumstances under which the killing occurred or on the state of mind of the killer. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is attributed to the Ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BCE.

Manslaughter is usually broken down into two categories:

Voluntary manslaughter - Voluntary manslaughter is when the killer has provocation for the murder, such as finding a spouse with a lover. In these circumstances, the homicide may even be termed as a crime of passion. It may even be in an instance such when a woman kills a rapist in order to get away. Voluntary manslaughter also cover when the killer in temporarily insane or not in the right state of mind. Essentially, voluntary manslaughter can be any instance when a person kills somebody intentionally but the circumstances leading to the homicide where such that the actions of the killer can be understood but stillcondemned. Punishment for this many be less or equal to murder depending on the circumstances.

Involuntary manslaughter - Involuntary manslaughter is when the killer has killed accidentally or without the intention of taking a life. This can include drunk driving, negligence, or assault without the intention of killing. Involuntary manslaughter is further categorized into constructive manslaughter and criminally negligent manslaughter. Constructive manslaughters include drunk driving incidents, running a red light, etc. Criminally negligent manslaughter is as the name suggests homicide due to negligence. The punishment for this will be less that murder, but may be less or equal to voluntary manslaughter.

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