While all felonies that deal with the death of another human being are serious matters, some charges carry far heavier penalties if convicted than others. All of these charges are grouped under the main heading of homicide, but within that category are subdivisions that deal with the severity of the crime. If you are facing such a serious charge, it's vital to your defense that you understand these subtle distinctions.
To the survivors of the alleged victim, it might not matter that much whether their loved one died as a result of a second degree murder or an act of involuntary manslaughter. But to the authorities, the defendant and the courts, it matters a great deal.
First and second degree murder
First degree murder charges are leveled at those whom police and prosecutors allege intended to cause lethal harm to the victim. Some first degree murder charges involve intricate plots and great planning, but the intention to kill does not have to be a long-term plan.
Defendants can also face first degree murder charges if they intended for one person to die but another was unintentionally killed instead. Such would be the case if a man lay in wait to kill his wife's lover and instead wound up killing a deliveryman by mistake.
Second degree murder charges usually arise from a killing done "in the heat of passion" where there was no prior intent to kill. To use the above example of the jilted lover again, a second degree murder charge could result from a man returning home early and finding his wife in bed with her lover. Angry and distraught, he shoots them both and is charged with two counts of second degree murder.
Voluntary manslaughter versus involuntary manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter and second degree murder charges share some commonalities. Namely, both usually occur in a heated moment, but without any premeditation. A barfight that got out of hand and resulted in a man being gutted by a knife could conceivably bring a charge of voluntary manslaughter against the one who stabbed him.
Involuntary manslaughter charges deal with unintentional killings resulting from reckless acts and criminal negligence, or when someone dies during the commission of a minor felony or a misdemeanor. A drunken driver who wrecks and kills his or her passenger or another person could face this charge. While his or her negligence and recklessness led to the person's demise, there was never any intent to cause the death.
All homicide charges require a staunch defense
Whether the charge you are facing is involuntary manslaughter or first degree murder, your first priority must be to launch an aggressive defense that paints you and your actions in the best possible light given the serious circumstances. Remember that your life and liberty is at stake, so seek out the best defense counsel possible to represent you in court.