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Manslaughter Vs. Murder: What’s the Difference?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on September 26, 2020

Manslaughter and murder often get used interchangeably, as if they are the same crime. While both charges do involve the taking of someone’s life, they are actually completely different under the law, especially when it comes to the penalties you may face. Knowing the difference between a manslaughter charge and a murder charge could mean getting out of jail in a few years or being stuck behind bars for your entire life.

Understanding Manslaughter

There are different kinds of manslaughter charges. The three main types that you have heard mentioned in the past include voluntary, involuntary, and vehicular manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter means that you intended to kill the victim. You may have done it in a fit of rage, or because you were trying to defend yourself, but either way, it was intentional.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when you kill someone by accident, or involuntarily, as the name implies. For example, you may have accidentally knocked someone to the ground while going on a run. The fall caused a brain bleed that led to the victim dying. While you took a life and should have watched where you were going, it was not at all your intention to cause any harm.

Vehicular manslaughter is, as you may have already guessed, when a car is used to accidentally kill someone. With vehicular manslaughter, no other laws, such as drinking and driving, can be broken for it to count as a charge. If you were drunk at the time of the accident, then the charges will likely be harsher.

Understanding Murder

The key difference between manslaughter and murder is “malice aforethought.” Essentially, murder is only murder if you went into a situation with the plan to kill the other person. This may be done weeks in advance or just a few hours beforehand. Either way, the intent to kill must be present; otherwise, it is legally manslaughter.

It is also important to note that while voluntary manslaughter also involves intent and a willingness to harm or kill, there is no planning done beforehand. Voluntary manslaughter is reserved for situations where intent or emotion got out of control. For example, if a bar fight starts, and you get involved and beat another fighter to death, there was no plan to go to the bar and kill someone. However, the fact that you were willing to engage in the violence also shows that you had an intent to kill, and it wasn’t an accident or an act of negligence.

The Penalties

As you may expect, murder carries a much harsher set of penalties than manslaughter. For a conviction of first-degree murder, you will likely be facing:

  • Between 25 years and a life sentence in state prison
  • The death penalty

On the other hand, a conviction of voluntary manslaughter will get you:

  • Between 15 years and a life sentence in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • The death penalty

A charge of involuntary manslaughter could result in:

  • Between 2 to 4 years in jail or prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Finally, a charge of vehicular manslaughter carries penalties such as:

  • Up to 1 year in county jail
  • A fine of up to $1,000

It is important to note that while the death penalty is still legal in California, there is currently an official moratorium on the practice, set down by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019. Even if the death penalty is not currently practiced, life in prison is certainly a terrifying enough prospect for anyone facing murder or voluntary manslaughter charges. If you or a loved one have been charged with murder or manslaughter, then you need a top-notch defense team and a skilled Los Angeles violent crimes defense attorney at your side. Get the legal aid of Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP by calling (213) 688-0460 or contact us online and receive the best legal defense in Los Angeles.

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Posted in: Violent Crime