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Differences Between Manslaughter and Murder Charges

By San Diego Attorney on October 28, 2020

Whether it was due to a fight or vehicle collision, any criminal charge that involves a death should be taken extremely seriously, as the prosecution will want to find someone to blame immediately for a homicide. They may launch an in-depth investigation into all suspects, invade your privacy, and follow thin trails of evidence to your doorstep. But while you may assume these cases typically lead to a murder charge, manslaughter is another very real possibility. While a conviction is typically lighter than murder, every defendant should take a manslaughter charge as seriously as possible.

How Is Homicide Defined?

Homicide is a broad term that refers to the wrongful killing of an individual, either due to unintentional or willful actions. The distinction between manslaughter and murder is linked to the differences between the unintentional killing of someone and the intentional killing of someone.

Manslaughter refers to the unintentional killing of someone, often through an act of negligence, recklessness, or carelessness. While an individual may intend to rob a store with a firearm, if the gun went off by accident, it would be considered manslaughter because the defendant did not intend to kill someone. Defined under California Penal Code Section 192, manslaughter is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being without malice” and includes:

  • Voluntary manslaughter, which can occur during the “heat of passion,” a fight, or an argument;
  • Involuntary manslaughter, which refers to an action, whether lawful or unlawful, that had a high chance of causing serious bodily harm or killing someone; and
  • Vehicular manslaughter, which refers to reckless driving that results in an individual’s death.

For a prosecutor to pursue a charge of manslaughter, they must prove that the defendant caused the death of an individual but did not intend to. This is a direct contrast to murder, which is defined under California Penal Code Section 187 as killing someone with “malice aforethought,” meaning the defendant actively tried to kill someone.

Just like manslaughter, murder can be split into two categories:

  • Second-degree murder: The murder was not planned but was still intentional.
  • First-degree murder: The murder was “pre-meditated,” planned, or thought out beforehand.

How Is Homicide Charged?

Once an investigation reveals that a death was caused by homicide, the prosecution will have to determine if the evidence supports a manslaughter or murder charge. Both are extremely serious charges and can drastically change your life. However, the length of your prison sentence and the impact on your life will largely depend on the specific type of charge you are facing.

Homicide cases can lead to a charge of:

  • Involuntary manslaughter: Two, three, or four years in a state prison.
  • Voluntary manslaughter: Three, six, or 11-years in a state prison.
  • Vehicular manslaughter: Either one year in a county jail, or two, four, or six years in a state prison.
  • Second-degree murder: 15-years in a state prison, 20-years if it involved a drive-by shooting, 25-years if you have a prior conviction, or 25-years to life if the victim was a peace officer.
  • First-degree murder: 25-years to life in a state prison, or life in prison if it involved a hate crime.

All of these charges besides vehicular manslaughter are automatic felonies in the state of California, meaning that if you are released from prison, you will lose the right to vote, the right to own a firearm, and have a difficult time finding employment or housing. In addition, if you are charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, you could also face further time in prison.

However, not every case is clear cut, and with the legal expertise of jD LAW, you may be able to have the charges dropped or reduced. Our lead attorney is a former police investigator and has more than 30 years of experience defending clients. If you work with our firm, he may be able to have your charges reduced from murder to manslaughter through a plea deal or jury trial, effectively decreasing the amount of time you have to serve in prison, or he can work to prove you completely innocent of all charges.

When homicide charges are leveled against you or someone you love, you should not hesitate about contacting the best San Diego violent crimes lawyer in the state. The prosecution has already begun building their case against you, and you should immediately pick up the phone and call jD LAW at (760) 630-2000 for a free initial consultation.

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James N. Dicks
jD LAW, P.C.

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