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What is the Difference Between Murder & Manslaughter?


Although people generally refer to the act of killing another person as murder, it is important to understand that this is only one form of homicide. Homicide is a blanket term that encompasses all intentional and unintentional acts of killing—including murder, manslaughter (voluntary and involuntary) as well as different classes of vehicular manslaughter —so these terms cannot be used interchangeably.

According to California Code §187(a), murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought. First-degree murder is accomplished via "felony murder," or when committed with premeditation and deliberation. Second degree murder is either intentional murder or murder with conscious disregard for human life.

Voluntary Manslaughter is committed when an intentional killing occurs—either in the heat of passion or as a result of objectively reasonable provocation. The law holds a killing committed during "the heat of passion" or as a result of objectively reasonable provocation is a manslaughter, because these two conditions negate "malice aforethought" required for murder.

It is important to understand, however, that there are two different forms of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter involves the unintentional killing of another person, without an available defense such as non-negligent accident or mistake of fact.

According to California Code §192(b), one could be guilty with involuntary manslaughter if they have unintentionally caused the death of a human being during the commission of a) an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or b) a lawful act that involves a high risk of death or great bodily harm. Under these circumstances, malice aforethought would not exist—thus resulting in a less serious charge and sentence than murder. Even so, both forms of manslaughter are still charged as felonies in California. This means that the penalties associated with a conviction would be quite severe, despite the fact that they would be less serious than those associated with a murder conviction. Under the law, sentencing could be ordered as follows:

  • Murder in the First Degree – 25 years to life in state prison
  • Murder in the Second Degree – 15 years to life in state prison
  • Voluntary Manslaughter – 3, 6 or 11 years in state prison
  • Involuntary Manslaughter – 2, 3 or 4 years in state prison

If you or someone you love has been charged with any of the aforementioned offenses in California, it is imperative that you get in touch with a Solano County criminal defense lawyer today. Not only could you be facing hard time behind bars, but you may also be at risk of acquiring a strike on your criminal record. For this reason, the legal team at Maas and Russo encourages you to contact our firm today. Call at (800) 483-0992 or submit a free case evaluation form online to get started.