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What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

Someone died violently and police believe that you killed him or her. When police arrested you, they told you that you face charges of either murder or manslaughter. Your fear of not knowing what happens next increases dramatically due to not understanding what you could be facing.

Many people confuse what murder actually means under the law. The legal definition of taking another human life is homicide. Not all types of homicide lead to criminal charges. Criminal homicide, on the other hand, includes murder and manslaughter.

A murder conviction requires prosecutors to prove that you killed another person unlawfully (without legal justification) with the intent to harm the victim called "malice aforethought" beyond a reasonable doubt. The law provides for different degrees of murder (i.e. first- or second-degree murder) depending on the following factors:

  • The intent of the person accused (the gravity of the crime)
  • The sentence assigned to it by statute

For instance, a charge of first-degree murder usually entails a large degree of cruelty and premeditation. The element of intent separates murder from manslaughter.

So, what must prosecutors prove for manslaughter?

Two types of manslaughter exist:

  1. Voluntary manslaughter: If officials charge you with this crime, they believe the following:

  • You committed a homicide.
  • The victim provoked you with more than words.
  • You became violent "in the heat of passion."
  • You failed to take time to cool off.
  • The incident that provoked you, the heat of passion and the homicidal act must be connected.
  1. Involuntary manslaughter: In order for this charge to apply, the following elements must be present:

  • You breached a legal duty to the victim.
  • Breaching that duty was not a felony in and of itself.
  • Your reckless or grossly negligent action caused the victim's death.
Many movies and television shows glorify voluntary manslaughter, but it provides a good example of its meaning. One character walks in on his or her significant other in bed with someone else and kills one or both of the parties involved. As for involuntarily manslaughter, this charge could result from a fatal drunk driving accident.

Ultimately, the circumstances surrounding your case are crucial to your defense and the charges you might face. Once your attorney reviews the evidence officials think proves you committed one of these criminal homicides, your attorney can determine the options available to provide you with the best resolution possible.

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