When a person dies at the hands of another, the individual who is accused of the death might have to deal with the criminal justice system. This is a difficult prospect, however, having a basic understanding of the difference between murder and manslaughter may help as you work on a defense if you are facing criminal charges.
One of the first things that you have to understand is what homicide means in the criminal justice system. At the most basic level, a homicide is a death that wasn't due to natural causes. There are two types of homicides in the criminal justice system -- murder and manslaughter.
The severity of the charges
Murder charges are more serious than manslaughter charges. Murder charges are divided into degrees with first degree, or capital murder, being the most serious. Manslaughter charges are serious, but not as serious as murder charges. Manslaughter charges are divided into two categories -- voluntary and involuntary.
The criteria for the charges
Each murder or manslaughter charge has specific criteria that must be present for the crime to have been committed. For example, if you kill someone in the heat of passion without having planned the killing, you might be charged with one of the manslaughter charges. You might also be charged with manslaughter if you drive drunk and are involved in a fatal accident. If you got into an argument with someone, left the scene, went home, got a gun, returned to the scene and killed the person, you will likely be charged with murder. This is because you had to plan to leave the scene to get a gun and come back with the intention of killing the person.
The penalties for the charges
The actual charges you are facing determine the penalties you may face. The more serious the charge, the more severe the penalties. For example, a first-degree murder charge means you are looking at the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty. A voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charge wouldn't carry either of those possibilities, but you could face a period of incarceration.
Manslaughter and murder are serious felony charges that can lead to your serving time in prison, as well as having to deal with collateral consequences that come with a violent crime conviction. These include losing your right to own firearms or hold a public office. With this in mind, you can understand why you need to fight the charges against you. Even if you acknowledge that you did kill the victim, you can still focus your defense on keeping the penalties to a minimum.