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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

Murder in the what degree?

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2015 | Criminal Law |

When we think of “murder” in the general sense, we think of an intentional killing or death. But did you know that some murder is not always intentional? What is the actual difference between terms like “first-degree murder,” “involuntary manslaughter” or other representations of death by human?

There are four basic types of murder. In Missouri, murder is the unlawful killing of another human being. However, the difference between first-degree and second-degree murder is significant.

Murder in the first degree

First-degree murder is committed with thought or a plan — premeditation, deliberation and other forms of consideration. In this type of case, the prosecutor must demonstrate to the court that the defendant intentionally and deliberately took the life of another (without a legally justifiable reason).

Murder in the second degree

Murder in the second degree is slightly different. Second-degree murder is still an intentional killing, but it is not is not necessarily premeditated. It is important to note that the offense is not committed in the heat of passion, either.

This type of murder is a killing caused by dangerous actions and the offender’s clear disregard for human life. This charge lands somewhere between first-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter.

What is manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being; however, the offense is not necessarily intentional or planned. Voluntary manslaughter is the taking of another’s life in the heat of passion.

The classic example is a man coming home from work to find his wife in bed with another person. Immediately, the husband grabs a nearby baseball bat and bludgeons his wife to death. The offense may not have been premeditated, planned or deliberated, but it happened in the heat of the moment.

Note that if a reasonable period of time were to pass between the discovery of the affair and the killing (i.e., the defendant had a few minutes to cool off), the husband could be charged with second-degree murder instead of voluntary manslaughter. This is because the defendant would have had time to think, and the offense would not be an immediate reaction.

Involuntary manslaughter is different. Let’s say a man goes out drinking with his friends on a Friday night. He has one too many alcoholic beverages; gets behind the wheel of a car; and attempts to drive home. The motorist operates the car at three times the posted speed limit and accidently hits and kills a pedestrian walking alongside the road. In this case, the killing would not be intentional and premeditated; however, the unlawful act would be deemed grossly negligent. This is involuntary manslaughter.

Talk to an attorney

Murder vs. manslaughter is one of the hardest concepts to grasp in criminal law. What is important to remember is that manslaughter is an offense carried out in the moment.

To learn more about murder and manslaughter, as well as the available defenses to these charges, speak with legal professional.