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Key Differences Between Murder & Manslaughter

A Closer Look at Murder and Manslaughter

Murder and manslaughter both involve killing another human being, but there are critical differences to be aware of. Many people assume that ending another person’s life is murder, but under certain circumstances, doing so could warrant manslaughter charges instead. Continue reading to learn the distinctions between murder and manslaughter.

Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought. “Malice” is defined as conduct that intends to cause injury or despicable conduct that shows a willful and conscious disregard for the rights and safety of others. It can be interpreted in two ways:

  • Implied malice: Occurs when there is no considerable provocation in the situation, or when circumstances of the situation show an abandoned or spiteful heart. Simply put, implied malice occurs when a person demonstrates a conscious disregard for human life despite knowing that their actions could result in death.
  • Express malice: Occurs when a person deliberately intends to kill another person.

Murder is divided into first and second degrees. First-degree murder is a premeditated and planned killing of another that is willful and deliberate. Second-degree murder is the willful and intentional killing of another person that does not involve premeditation or planning.

Oftentimes, second-degree murder is committed in the “heat of the moment,” such as during a robbery. Although a person plans to cause harm by committing a crime, that doesn’t mean they planned to kill a person, which is why second-degree murder penalties are typically less severe than those of first-degree murder.

For instance, a person convicted of second-degree murder in California will face a prison term of 15 years to life while a person convicted of first-degree murder will be punished with a prison term of life without parole.

On the other hand, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought and comes in three forms:

  • Voluntary: A killing committed upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. This crime is punishable by imprisonment for 3, 6, or 11 years.
  • Involuntary: A killing that occurs in the commission of a misdemeanor or a lawful act that might cause death, in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection. If convicted, you could face 2 to 4 years in prison.
  • Vehicular: A killing that occurs while driving a vehicle with or without gross negligence. The penalty upon conviction is a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Charged with Murder or Manslaughter? We’ve Got Your Back.

Our Santa Barbara violent crime lawyers obtain more than 40 combined years of experience on both sides of the criminal justice system and have what it takes to fight for the best possible outcome in your case. We understand that the stakes are high in both murder and manslaughter cases, therefore you can rest assured that we will explore every legal option available in your unique situation before formulating a powerhouse defense on your behalf.

Our mission is to help get your charges minimized or dropped altogether. Contact us at (805) 467-6060 to learn how we can fight for that possibility.