Manslaughter vs. Murder: What's the Difference?

While both manslaughter and murder involve killing another person, there is a key distinction between the two. In this blog, I will discuss the differences between manslaughter and murder under Virginia law, as well as the penalties and sentencing for each conviction, the more severe of which is associated with murder.

Manslaughter vs. Murder

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is a killing that is intentional but not premeditated, such as one committed during mutual combat or after being provoked by the alleged victim. Voluntary manslaughter often occurs when someone acts while their thinking is disturbed by emotional excitement. This typically happens when a person is acting in self-defense but overreacts and kills another person. In this scenario, the person technically acted with the intent to kill, but the act was committed "in the heat of passion," so the court will likely find the person guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Note that the reaction to killing has to happen instantaneously for it to be considered voluntary manslaughter. If they had any time to "cool off" before they killed another person, it becomes murder.

Capital Murder, First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder

Both voluntary manslaughter and murder involve the killing of a person, but premeditation is the main distinction between the two charges. While someone may be charged with voluntary manslaughter for an impulsive but intentional killing, an individual is guilty of capital murder if they intentionally, deliberately, and with premeditation kill:

  • anyone while in the middle of an abduction or kidnapping with the intent to extort money or defile the victim;
  • any person by hiring someone else to successfully do so;
  • a prisoner or any individual in the custody of an employee of a state or local correctional facility;
  • anyone during a robbery or attempted robbery;
  • anyone during or after a rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, or an attempt at any of those three sexual crimes;
  • a law enforcement officer, a firefighter acting with police powers, or a deputy/auxiliary police officer in order to stop the officer from performing their official duties;
  • more than one person as part of the same act or transaction;
  • at least 2 people within a 3-year period;
  • someone during a drug-related crime involving a Schedule I or II controlled substance;
  • someone due to a criminal drug organization boss’s orders;
  • a pregnant woman when the individual knows the woman is pregnant and intends to kill the unborn child;
  • anyone under 14 when the individual is over 21 years old;
  • anyone during an act of terrorism or during an attempted act of terrorism;
  • a judge to interfere with the judge’s performance of their official duties, or;
  • a witness in a criminal case to prevent them from giving testimony or performing any other duties as a witness.

An individual is guilty of first-degree murder if they (a) kill someone (b) in a manner not covered by capital murder, by any of the following methods:

  • poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, or starving;
  • any intentional, deliberate, and premeditated killing;
  • while committing or trying to commit rape, forcible sodomy, object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction.

Every other form of homicide will likely fall under the category of second-degree murder.

Penalties and Sentencing

Voluntary manslaughter is considered a Class 5 felony carrying 1-10 years in jail or confinement in jail for no more than 12 months, and a possible fine of up to $2,500.

Capital murder is a felony conviction punishable by death or life imprisonment, as well as a possible fine of up to $100,000. First-degree murder is a Class 2 felony that can carry 20 years to life in prison and a possible fine of up to $100,000, and a second-degree murder charge is a felony conviction with 5-40 years in prison.

Defense Options

Similar defenses can be used against both voluntary manslaughter and murder charges:

  • Delf-defense
  • Insanity
  • Accident

An individual convicted of voluntary manslaughter could also argue actual innocence or intoxication. While intoxication won’t excuse a person from their criminal behavior, it could reduce their charge to a case of involuntary manslaughter.

Further defenses for murder could be:

  • Mistaken identity
  • Exercise of duty
  • Defense of others

Seek an Experienced Attorney Today

The difference between a voluntary manslaughter charge and a murder charge is crucial because the latter carries much severer penalties. If you have been accused of homicide, contact an experienced attorney immediately to represent your case. I, Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law, can review your case and develop a personalized defense to fight your charge, whether your case is related to manslaughter or murder.

Contact me at Andrew J. Cornick, Attorney at Law immediately to discuss your case.

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