We all know that when someone is convicted of murder, they end up in jail. It is the most violent crime in the penal code and carries the harshest punishment. Taking someone’s life usually results in a long prison sentence. In many states, there is no possibility of parole. In some jurisdictions, a murder conviction can also lead to the death penalty.
However, when someone dies at the hands of another person, our criminal justice system does not necessarily classify the crime as murder. Sometimes, it’s manslaughter. So, what is the difference between manslaughter and murder? Can manslaughter be punished with life imprisonment?
In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:
- What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?
- What is the difference between intentional homicide and involuntary homicide?
- Possible penalties for manslaughter
What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?
There are several different factors when it comes to distinguishing the crime of “murder” from “manslaughter.” Most notably, it depends on the killer’s state of mind.
For example, in California, murder is defined as killing someone “with malice” or malicious intent. There are two types of malice: explicit and implicit.
To express malice means that someone intends to kill another person. Implicit malice is when someone knowingly does something that they know is dangerous to the life of another, and that action results in that person’s death. In other words, a conscious disregard for human life when committing a crime.
Unlawful killing is defined as murder if it involves expressed or implied malice. If no malicious premeditation is involved, then it is defined as manslaughter.
Manslaughter remains a very serious crime. However, in most states it is generally less punishable than murder.
What is the difference between intentional homicide and involuntary homicide?
Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of another person or persons without malicious intent. However, there is still a “conscious disregard for human life”. Manslaughter can be voluntary or involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter is murder committed in self-defense or out of passion. “Fire of passion” is defined as someone being provoked to kill. Provocation can cause strong emotions and reckless behavior. In this type of case, the jury must decide whether the defendant was provoked to a strong emotion rather than acting in premeditated anger.
Involuntary manslaughter is when someone is killed unintentionally due to recklessness or criminal negligence. One of the most common examples is drunk driving.
DUI is a low-level felony and, in some states, a misdemeanor. It is involuntary homicide if you drive while intoxicated and cause an accident that results in someone’s death.
Possible penalties for manslaughter
Because of the distinction in criminal law between intentional and involuntary manslaughter, the two crimes may carry different penalties, and these penalties vary from state to state.
If a jury finds defendants guilty of manslaughter, the exact punishment they face depends on the language of the law governing the punishment. Usually, courts can choose from a range of sentences when sentencing. Judges may also consider aggravating and mitigating factors.
Often, aggravating factors are added to the sentence. The mitigating factors usually lessen the severity of the penalty.
federal law against intentional homicide Provides that a person convicted of an offense under this Act shall be liable to a fine, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, or to both.
California’s voluntary manslaughter law requires anyone found guilty to serve between three and 11 years in prison. Connecticut has a sentence of 1 to 20 years for first-degree manslaughter, or 5 to 40 years if a firearm is used. In Georgia, manslaughter is punishable by 30 to 70 years in prison.
In Washington state, the law does not specifically define voluntary/involuntary homicide. Instead, they divide crime into primary and secondary. First-degree manslaughter (voluntary) carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $50,000 fine.
But Washington isn’t the only state where life in prison for manslaughter is possible. Since life imprisonment in most states is defined as 15 years with a chance of parole, a defendant can definitely get a “life sentence.” Sometimes, they can get more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the defendant will die in prison.
The same can be said for cases of involuntary homicide. Some states impose heavy sentences for involuntary homicide, equivalent to life in prison. In Mississippi, manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. In New Hampshire, manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.
However, manslaughter usually carries a slightly lighter sentence than manslaughter. Some states have a five-year prison limit, while others drop it to one year.
As with any crime that occurs in the United States, it really depends on the specific circumstances of the case and the specific laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime occurred.
Are you surprised that a manslaughter conviction can lead to life in prison? Are you surprised that a life sentence is only considered 15 years with the possibility of parole? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: Will I Go To Jail If Convicted of Manslaughter? What is manslaughter? What is murder vs. manslaughter? 18 U.S.C. § 1112 - U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 18. Crimes and Criminal Procedure § 1112. Manslaughter Involuntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing