You are probably familiar with the crime of murder. However, not everyone who causes someone to die receives a murder charge. Sometimes a prosecutor will levy manslaughter charges. There is an important distinction between these two kinds of charges since they carry differing degrees of punishment.
Manslaughter might sound like a crime worse than murder, but it is not. In reality, a conviction for manslaughter generally carries a lesser sentence than murder. FindLaw provides some background to help you distinguish between manslaughter and murder.
Intention to commit murder
The law determines someone has committed murder by whether or not the person had malicious intentions governing the person’s actions that resulted in someone’s death. These intentions may involve planning out the killing of an individual in advance. Murder may also happen if the perpetrator decided on the spot to kill another human being.
By contrast, the law defines manslaughter as an act that did not involve an intention to kill. Instead, a person engaged in reckless or negligent actions that caused someone to die. Still, the law deems the person responsible enough that he or she could have avoided the action that resulted in someone’s death. For example, law enforcement could charge you with vehicular manslaughter if you kill someone while driving drunk.
Voluntary or involuntary manslaughter
Like murder, the law divides manslaughter by degree of severity. You might receive a felony charge if convicted of voluntary manslaughter. This kind of manslaughter happens if you cause someone to die in the heat of the moment, perhaps after a provocation. You did not intend to kill someone, but you did intend to do harm at that moment.
Involuntary manslaughter does not require any intention to harm another person. Generally, involuntary manslaughter involves an accident as a result of reckless behavior. You might receive a misdemeanor charge and avoid substantial prison time if convicted. Given the distinction between manslaughter and murder, plus the different degrees of manslaughter, you face differing threats to your freedom depending on the charge.