Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Murder is when one human being kills another, which is intentional, unlawful, and involves malice aforethought or intent to cause serious physical harm. Manslaughter, on the other hand, is also an unlawful killing without any malice that can occur accidentally, in self-defense, or unintentionally. 

Whenever a case of homicide happens, we call it murder or manslaughter. These two commonly confused words mean different things.

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter 

Murder is an intentional killing with malice aforethought. Such crime is thought and planned Definition Manslaughter is an unintentional killing without malice aforethought. 
But murder due to heat of passion also is considered manslaughter.
First-degree murder 
Second-degree murder 
Felony murder 
Types  Voluntary manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter 
Vehicular manslaughter 
Other types of manslaughter 
Uncertain Possibility of parole Uncertain 
Life imprisonment for first-degree murderHomicide PenaltiesNo life imprisonment for second-degree murder, but the imprisonment is usually a decade long 
Up to 10 to 15 years of prison sentence for manslaughter 
The accused generally consults with a criminal defense attorney for the murder or criminal charges Consulting with Attorney Manslaughter is also a serious crime, so consulting with a criminal defense attorney is crucial 

What is Considered Murder?

When a person kills another person in a way that is intentional, unlawful, and involves malice aforethought, it’s called murder.

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Here, unlawful means against the lawful killing of police or army during the war, shoot out, etc. Malice aforethought again implies a state of mind where an individual feels-

  • The intent is to inflict severe physical harm.
  • Intent to kill.
  • Intent to commit a serious felony, which resulted in murder.
  • Extremely reckless disregard for human life resulted in death.

There are different degrees of murder, and most states consider these same degrees even though the law of murder may differ in every state.

Degrees of Murder

First-degree murder (Premeditated murder)

A deliberate and planned murder is regarded as a first-degree murder where the accused premeditated the crime before committing it.

The law declares first-degree murder charges based on other evidence at the crime scene.

Some states, but not all, charge an accused with first-degree murder based on premeditation.

Other circumstances included in first-degree murder can include:

  • Multiple killings
  • Depraved actions
  • The killing of a police officer
  • Outrageous actions

Second-degree murder (Unpremeditated murder)

Second-degree murder is when the killer’s intention was not to murder but to inflict serious bodily harm.

Unpremeditated Definition

The definition of unpremeditated differs from state to state. Some states abide by the definition previously mentioned. Other states call it an intentional killing, but without premeditation, a second-degree murder.

Some others also call the demonstration of utter negligence to human life second-degree murder.

Third-degree murder (Felony murder)

Only a few states have a criminal system that includes felony murder. Such states charge a person with third-degree murder when the accused was not directly involved in the murder of a person and was a part of the crime scene.

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Example of Third-degree Murder

For instance, Bob and Harry rob a bank, and Bob kills the guard during the confrontation. Now Bob will be charged with first-degree murder, whereas Harry will be charged with felony murder.

Harry didn’t kill the guard, but he was a part of the robbery.

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
Both murder and manslaughter are considered crimes.

What is Considered Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is another form of homicide where a person kills another human being without malice. Manslaughter is an unpremeditated murder.

Types of Manslaughter

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is a situation where the murderer may have the intent to kill the victim, or they might have premeditated the murder. But the law decides to reduce the charges to manslaughter under special circumstances.

Example of Voluntary Manslaughter

When a parent sees their child being hurt by someone, they may react in the heat of passion and kill the opposite person. This is considered voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter takes place due to extreme criminal negligence or reckless behavior. It’s also referred to as an unintentional murder but is not the same as a felony.

Examples of Involuntary Murder

  • Utter negligence and recklessness to criminal law resulted in a murder
  • Didn’t intend the crime or murder
  • Accidental disregard for human lives that lead to death

Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular homicide occurs when someone didn’t intend to kill or cause serious physical injury or kill someone, but operated the vehicle with gross negligence that resulted in a murder.

Such unintentional killing may occur when a drunk driver kills someone, or an accident occurs due to reckless driving.

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter
Killing someone while drunk driving can lead to a manslaughter charge.

Other Charges of Manslaughter

If an intoxicated person kills someone, it will also be considered manslaughter. Other than that, in the killing of another person under any circumstances where it wasn’t planned or intentional, the accused will have to face manslaughter charges.

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If you’ve enjoyed this post, check out our article comparing police versus sheriff.


Vanessa is passionate about written communication, especially after beginning her career as a middle school English teacher. She’s an experienced content marketer as well. Vanessa loves to analyze, compare, and contrast, which is why she writes for ContrastHub. Besides writing, Vanessa is a wife, mom, entrepreneur, spicy food enthusiast, comedy nerd and lifelong learner.

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