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What separates manslaughter from murder?

The word manslaughter sounds to the ears of many California residents as a particularly horrific act, which is why it may be surprising to learn that manslaughter is actually quite different from an act of murder. In fact, manslaughter is considered a lesser form of killing than murder. This distinction is important because a person may face more severe criminal penalties depending on the form of homicide charged.

FindLaw distinguishes murder from manslaughter by intention. A person who plans and orchestrates the killing of a human being is considered guilty of murder. The perpetrator may have been devising the act for a long time or decided to do it within the space of a few minutes. Some people engage in killing in the heat of the moment without any premeditation, but it is still considered murder.

By contrast, manslaughter occurs when the perpetrator had no intention of committing a homicide. An example of manslaughter is when someone is struck and killed by a drunk driver. The killing was the result of behavior that was reckless and dangerous, but not intentionally murderous. Usually, these offenses are considered to be acts of involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is considered the least form of manslaughter. However, a person can be charged with a more severe form of manslaughter that still falls short of outright murder. This is known as voluntary manslaughter, which occurs when someone enters into a mentally or emotionally disturbed state, usually as the result of an incident that causes anger or other emotional distress, and kills a person though the perpetrator did not intend to do so.

The distinction between murder and manslaughter is important because a murder charge carries more serious penalties if convicted. While murder charges can put a person away for life, manslaughter charges may result in far less prison time, perhaps less than ten years in state prison depending on the degree of manslaughter. Individuals who face homicide charges should consult with an experienced defense attorney to understand their options.

This article is not written to provide you with legal advice. Because issues involving violent crimes take many different forms, you should read this article only for general informative purposes.   

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