To understand the distinctions between murder and manslaughter, one must first understand the legal term “homicide.” Homicide is the killing of a person by another person. Homicide is not a crime unless it was done illegally. For example, if a human being takes the life of another human being it may have been done in self defense. This homicide would be considered justifiable. However, murder and manslaughter are considered unlawful homicides, and there are differences between the two.
Defining Manslaughter and Murder
The legal definition of “manslaughter” is the unlawful killing of a human being. However, manslaughter is done without malice thought, which means the person did not intend to kill or harm that individual in anyway. Because there was no malice thinking involved in the killing, a person convicted of manslaughter is punished less severely because he or she is not to blame for the death, morally speaking. Even though manslaughter is a serious crime, the consequences of a conviction typically are less serious than those that accompany a murder conviction.
According to common law, “murder” is the unlawful killing of another individual by an individual with “malice aforethought,” which means the person who killed the other individual meant to cause that person injury, and maybe, even death. Even if the person claims he or she just intended to injure the victim and not take his or her life, it still would be considered a murder, due to the existence of malice aforethought.
Should it be Manslaughter or Murder?
It has been established that manslaughter and murder are different crimes. Furthermore, it is important to understand that there are subcategories of each crime. There is either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, as well as first degree or second degree murder. However, the hardest distinction to decipher is the difference between” involuntary manslaughter” and “unintentional second degree murder.”
If someone in the State of California has killed another person accidentally, that person could be charged with involuntary manslaughter or second degree murder. Whether someone is charged with involuntary manslaughter or second degree murder for an accidental killing is a decision made based on how careless the defendant was. If it is believed that the defendant still “implied” malice murder, then he or she would be charged with unintentional second degree murder. The killing also may have resulted from “recklessness” by the defendant. Under California law, for example, reckless murder occurs when the defendant is aware of, but consciously disregards, a risk that takes another person’s life. This individual could end up facing a conviction for second degree murder.
A killing often is considered involuntary manslaughter if the individual did not consider the risk of what he or she was doing. Involuntary manslaughter is considered a result of reckless behavior that a reasonable citizen would have avoided. This is known as “criminal negligence.”
It is important to understand, courts and juries are given the responsibility, often times, to rely on the circumstances surrounding the case to help them determine the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the act. This would lead them to either convict the person for involuntary manslaughter or unintentional second degree murder.