Murder Vs. Manslaughter: What's The Difference?

In the world of law, there are few terms that have created as much confusion as murder and manslaughter. Although both of the terms involve the death of an individual at the hands of the other, the intent is the lynch pin that delineates the difference between the two terms. If there is the intent of malice, which is the serious intent to harm or kill, then a person accused of such a crime will stand trial for murder. If there is not, then manslaughter will be the charged levied against the person. Throughout the course of this brief article, you will learn the differences between each term.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is often referred to as a "heat of passion" crime. There are generally two criterion that the accused must meet in order to qualify for being charged with voluntary manslaughter.

The first is that the person was strongly provoked in such a manner that a reasonable person in such a circumstance would act in the same way and that the accused kills in the heat of passion due to said provocation. Killers who kill "in the heat of passion" may do so with the intent to kill, but it is the emotional duress that provides the context in which they can be tried under the rubric of manslaughter, rather than murder.

The most commonly used example of voluntary manslaughter is a husband coming home from work to catch his wife in the throes of passion with another man. In the heat of passion, he kills the man with whom she is having an affair. Under the context of this heat of passion, he can be tried as a person who committed voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary Manslaughter and Second Degree Murder

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when an individual acts in accordance with negligent behavior or is performing reckless acts that might serve to kill another person. Involuntary manslaughter, however, can be quite close to second-degree murder, as they both fall under the rubric of killing someone due to reckless behavior.

The differences between involuntary manslaughter and second degree murder can be quite subtle; this warrants an analysis. Essentially, involuntary manslaughter means that you acted more than ordinarily negligent. Under the rubric of second degree murder, the court decides that your actions were more than simply above ordinarily negligent. Rather, you acted in accordance with wild recklessness or complete disregard for human life.


One of the best examples that is invoked in determining the differences between manslaughter and murder is the case of killing someone with a vehicle. If the person driving the car killed a pedestrian with his or her vehicle, he or she might not be guilty of a crime at all.

Although this is rare, a court may decide that due to unforeseen circumstances, the pedestrian was the cause of the accident and that the driver of the automobile did not act out of negligence or recklessness. This can be the impetus of a civil suit, however.

If the driver of the vehicle was acting in accordance with what can be considered more than ordinarily negligence, like driving drunk, then he or she might be liable to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter. In some states, if you accidentally kill someone while driving you can be charged with vehicular homicide rather than manslaughter.

However, if the driver was driving in such an erratic manner that human life was a mere afterthought, then malicious intent is considered to be the driving impetus of the case, and the driver can be charged with second degree murder.

For more information, contact Larson, Latham, Huettl Attorneys or a similar firm.