An Easy Way to Understand What Manslaughter Is

By Kirk Anderson on December 7, 2016

So, you’ve heard of manslaughter. You probably even heard of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. But what’s the difference? And how is manslaughter different from murder? Let’s explore those questions together.

The definition of manslaughter is “The unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice. The unlawful killing of a human being without any deliberation, which may be involuntary, in the commission of a lawful act without due caution and circumspection.” The basic difference between manslaughter and murder is premeditation. If someone makes the decision to kill another person and then kills them after thinking about it that is murder. If someone kills another person without thinking about it before killing them that is manslaughter.

But there are two different types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is basically one of two things: crimes of passion and killing someone while committing a felony. So, for example, Bob comes home and finds his wife cheating on him. He gets into a fight with her boyfriend in kills him in a rage. That crime of passion is voluntary manslaughter. Another example would be if John breaks into a store and a security guard he didn’t know was there surprises him. They get into a fight and John kills the security guard after hitting him in the head with the store’s fire extinguisher. That is voluntary manslaughter because John killed someone while committing a felony who he had not actually planned to kill. (Note that had John brought a gun and had shot the security guard instead of hitting him with an object from the scene, it would be murder because he brought a deadly weapon to the scene thereby indicating that he at least thought of potentially killing someone once he got there.)

Involuntary manslaughter is killing someone without thinking about it beforehand and while committing a misdemeanor, not a felony. So, for example, Susy is driving 10 miles over the speed limit. She is breaking the law but is not committing a serious felony. While speeding, she loses control of the car, wrecks, and kills the passenger in her vehicle. Susy can be charged with involuntary manslaughter because she killed someone without thinking about it beforehand but while committing a misdemeanor.

It can be confusing to hear the different terms of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. But it is easy to understand them when you separate murder from manslaughter by whether the act involved premeditation or not. And you can separate voluntary from involuntary manslaughter by whether the person committed the act during a felony or a misdemeanor.

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