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Understanding the Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder Charges


arrested and in jailThere are a lot of misconceptions about manslaughter and murder charges – and their differences. While both involve taking a life, the punishments and overall facts of the crime are much different. Homicide is the term used to refer to the killing of another human being. But, the term itself does not define the crime, nor does it mean that a homicide was a criminal act. There are instances where a homicide can be justified and not necessarily punishable by the courts (such as justifiable killing of a suspect by law enforcement or acts of self-defense).

The distinctions between manslaughter and murder are subtle, but they are important to note – especially if you are being suspected of a homicide crime. In the courtroom, the jury’s choice between manslaughter and murder will depend on less abstract rules – and more so how blameworthy the defendant may be.

What is Murder?

Murder is an intentional killing that was unlawful (not legally justified), and that it was committed with malicious aforethought – that is, the individual responsible for the homicide intended to kill the other person. The person doesn’t have to act out of spite in order to be guilty of murder. Instead, he or she just needs the intention of killing another person without any legal justification or excuse for doing so. If the individual intentionally inflicts serious injuries that leads to the victim’s death, it could also be considered murder under the law. Also, if the defendant shows any reckless or extreme disregard for the person’s life, he or she could be guilty of murder.

Murder is not a common law issue; instead, it is defined by the statute. There is also the issue of first degree murder versus second degree murder. First degree murder occurs when the killing is premeditated, and even deliberate – such as a person bringing a gun to the scene of the crime with the intent on shooting the victim. Also, a person could be convicted of first degree murder if the death occurred during the commission of another crime – such as killing a person during a burglary.

The punishment of murder comes with a mandatory minimum sentence. Often, the punishment for a first degree offense will be much harsher than that of a second degree offense. If a defendant is convicted of first degree murder, a capital crime, then he or she could also face life in prison or even the death penalty – depending on what the state seeks in court.

What is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing that does not have malicious intent. This means that a person did not kill an individual intentionally, nor plan it out. Manslaughter involves much less moral blame on the defendant and could be in the form of an accident. For example, heat of passion crimes, which are referred to as voluntary manslaughter, occur when a person is provoked, but didn’t intentionally plan to kill the other person. Involuntary manslaughter on the other hand, occurs due to negligence or recklessness – such as accidentally killing another person in a motor vehicle accident.

Could You Be Charged with Both?

In most homicide cases, prosecutors may find that they have enough evidence to give the jury or judge the option of choosing manslaughter or murder. It would then be up to the prosecution to prove their case for either proposed charge – and then the judge or jury would have to determine which sentence fits the facts of the case.

Have You Been Arrested for a Homicide? Contact an Attorney Right Away

A homicide could quickly escalate into first degree murder charges – which means that you could face life in prison. Some prosecutors will quickly look for opportunities to make an example out of individuals – even when they never intended to harm a person. If you or a loved one has been arrested for homicide, contact the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices today for a free case evaluation. Let our team help determine what defense is best for you. Schedule your consult now at 505-375-4664, or fill out our online contact form with your legal questions.