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What's the difference between manslaughter and murder?

We often hear the terms "involuntary manslaughter," "first-degree murder," and voluntary manslaughter, whether it's on television shows or in the newspaper. The distinctions between these terms are usually lost on the average person but they can make a world of difference to someone who's charged with them.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the definitions of each:

  • First degree murder is the intentional killing of another human being with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought just means that there was criminal intent. First degree murder involves the planning and execution of the act of killing.
  • Second degree murder is also intentional killing but without premeditation. An example would be a person who fires a gun at one person but hits someone else in the process. It can be an act that shows a "depraved indifference for human life" and an act that was meant to "cause serious bodily harm" and ending up with someone dead.
  • Voluntary manslaughter is a killing without premeditation. These are what are typically referred to as crimes in the "heat of passion." Say a man comes home to find his wife in bed with another man. He becomes so enraged that he ends up killing his wife's lover.
  • Involuntary manslaughter happens when a person causes a death without meaning to cause it. A common example is a fatal drunk driving accident.

If you're facing any of these charges, the penalties can be severe. It may be in your best interest to speak with a criminal defense attorney to start building your defense.

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