Murder vs. Manslaughter vs. Homicide: Deciphering the Key Differences

The world of law and order can be confusing, especially when it comes to classifying different types of criminal offenses. Three terms that are often used interchangeably yet distinctly different are murder, manslaughter, and homicide.

Murder is perhaps the most well-known of these three terms and refers to unlawfully and knowingly causing the death of another person. “Knowingly” means that the person planned to cause the death of the other person or intended to cause serious physical injury, and death resulted.

Unlike manslaughter, the charge of murder requires the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to kill or cause a serious physical injury that caused a death.

In this blog, we’ll decipher the key differences between these crimes and explore the legal implications of each.

Are you or a loved one currently facing criminal charges? Contact our criminal defense attorneys at Rose Legal Services today for a consultation.

What is Murder?

There are two degrees of murder charges in Missouri, first and second degree. To prove a case of first-degree murder (RSMo 565.020), the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly caused the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter. This type of murder is a Class A felony and is considered the most severe. Under Missouri law, the only two possible sentences for Murder 1st Degree are life in prison without parole or and the death penalty.

Second-degree murder (RSMo 565.021), on the other hand, does not involve deliberation but typically includes an intention to kill. Specifically, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defending knowingly (or with the purpose of causing serious physical injury) caused the death of another person.

In Missouri, second-degree murder is a Class A felony punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison. Murder 2nd Degree is a “dangerous felony” under Section 556.061(19) of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, and therefore, pursuant to Section 558.019.3 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, any person convicted of this offense must serve at least 85% of any prison sentence before being eligible for parole.

Missouri also considers “felony murder” to be second-degree murder. “Felony murder” is a controversial charge in which the State does not have to prove any intention to kill or harm another person. “Felony murder” is when a death occurs during the commission of another crime, such as robbery or a drug transaction. To prove “felony murder,” the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed or attempted to commit a felony, and as a result, another person was killed.

What is Manslaughter?

Manslaughter under Missouri law is the unlawful but unintentional killing of another person. In other words, it is the act of killing someone without the intent to do so.

Manslaughter can result from recklessness or negligence on the perpetrator’s part. It’s worth noting that while manslaughter is less severe than murder, it still carries serious legal consequences and should not be taken lightly.

Types of Manslaughter

There are three types of manslaughter charges in Missouri, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter in the first and second degree:

  • Voluntary manslaughter: This occurs when the killing is committed in the heat of passion or sudden provocation. The offender does not have the intent to kill, but their emotions get the best of them, leading to the death of another person. It is charged as a Class B felony and punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
    ○ For this offense, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly or with the purpose of causing serious physical injury to another person caused the death of another person under the influence of sudden passion arising from adequate cause.
  • Involuntary manslaughter (first-degree): This occurs when the killing is the result of recklessness. The offender did not have the intent to kill, but their actions were so careless or reckless that they resulted in the death of another person. It is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
  • Involuntary manslaughter (second-degree): This occurs when the killing is the result of criminal negligence. It can be charged as either a Class C or Class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

You may have also heard of vehicular manslaughter, which occurs when a person causes the death of another person while operating a vehicle in a reckless or negligent manner. In Missouri, this offense is typically charged as involuntary manslaughter.

Difference Between Manslaughter and Murder

Understanding the difference between murder and manslaughter is important, as these two types of crimes have significant legal consequences.

Here are some things to keep in mind when distinguishing between murder and manslaughter:

  • Murder carries harsher penalties than manslaughter.
  • The burden of proof is different for prosecutors in a murder case compared to a manslaughter case in that prosecutors must prove a culpable mental state more serious than negligence or recklessness, or felony murder.
  • Manslaughter cases often involve accidental deaths resulting from reckless behavior such as drunk driving or mishandling firearms.
  • Both murder and manslaughter are serious crimes that can result in lengthy prison sentences and other legal consequences.

What is Homicide?

Homicide is a broad term that encompasses all types of killing. This term includes intentional killings, such as murder, and unintentional killings, such as manslaughter. Homicide can happen in various circumstances, but what remains constant is the fact that a life has been taken.

Understanding homicide requires knowledge of different types of killings. Here are some common examples:

  • Intentional Killing: When someone kills another person with intent, meaning they had the desire or plan to do so.
  • Unintentional Killing: When someone kills another person without intending to do so.
  • Self-Defense: When someone kills another person to protect themselves from harm.
  • Justifiable Homicide: When law enforcement officials kill someone in the line of duty or when citizens are legally authorized to use lethal force under certain circumstances.

These distinctions may seem straightforward but have significant implications for criminal liability and defense strategies. Understanding these subtle nuances can make all the difference in legal proceedings involving homicide.

Choose the Right Defense for Your Case

Whether a murder or manslaughter charge, choosing the right defense strategy can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Our criminal defense attorneys at Rose Legal Services have extensive experience in defending clients charged with murder and manslaughter. We will work tirelessly to advocate for your rights to help you secure the best possible outcome.

Don’t face these charges alone. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Author Bio

Scott Rose, an experienced criminal defense lawyer and founder of Rose Legal Services, has been practicing law for over 20 years. He is dedicated to representing clients facing criminal charges and providing legal representation on various cases, including DWI, misdemeanor, and felony cases.

After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, he gained valuable experience working for a United States Senator and as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Chief Judge of a United States District Court. Throughout his legal career, W. Scott Rose has committed to providing high-quality legal representation to his clients, earning him a spot in the National Top 100 Trial Lawyers.

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