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What’s the Difference Between Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter?


If you or a loved one have been arrested in connection with another person’s death in the State of California, you may wonder what the differences are between being charged with homicide, murder, and manslaughter. The terms may seem confusing, but they all refer to different types of crimes.


Homicide is the killing of one person by another. This is a broad term that includes both legal and illegal killings. For example, a soldier may kill another soldier in battle, but that is not a crime. There are various situations in which the killing of another person does not constitute a crime. The distinction between an illegal and legal killing is, therefore, the difference between murder and manslaughter.


Murder is a homicide that is the illegal killing of another person. Under California Penal Code Section 187, murder is defined as one person killing another person with malice aforethought. Malice is defined as the knowledge and intention or desire to do evil. Malice aforethought is found when one person kills another person with the intention to do so.

In California, a defendant may be charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, or capital murder.

  • First-degree murder penalties include up to 25 years to life in prison. One type of first-degree murder is capital murder. Capital murder is first-degree murder with “special circumstances” that make the crime even more egregious. These cases can be punishable by life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death.
  • Second-degree murder is murder without any preconceived intention of killing. The penalty for second-degree murder is up to 15 years to life in prison.
  • Felony murder is a subset of first-degree murder and is charged when a person is killed during the commission of a felony, such as a robbery or rape.


Manslaughter is a homicide that is the unintentional killing of another person. These cases are treated as much less severe crimes than murder. Manslaughter can also be categorized as voluntary or involuntary.

  • Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person kills another without any premeditation. An example of voluntary manslaughter is killing committed in the heat of the passion. The intent was to kill another person or inflict bodily harm, however, the action was not premeditated. The provocation must be such that a reasonable person under the same circumstances would have acted the same way. Penalties for voluntary manslaughter include up to 11 years in prison.
  • Involuntary manslaughter is when a person is killed by actions that involve a wanton disregard for life by another. Involuntary manslaughter is committed without premeditation and without the true intent to kill, but the death of another person still occurs as a result. Penalties for involuntary manslaughter include up to four years in prison.
  • Vehicular manslaughter occurs when a person dies in a car accident due to another driver’s gross negligence or even simple negligence, in certain circumstances.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in California

If you have been arrested or charged with any of the above crimes, you should consult with an experienced Los Angeles criminal attorney as soon as possible. Contact our legal team at the Law Office of Stein and Marcus today for more information.

The post What’s the Difference Between Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter? appeared first on Law Office of Stein & Markus | Attorney in Bellflower, CA.

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