Murder vs. Manslaughter: What's the Difference?


When someone commits an unlawful killing, it can, legally speaking, be classified as either murder or manslaughter. The nature of the crime, how it was committed and the nature between the victim and the accused can all contribute to the way in which the crime is charged. However, differentiating between the two isn’t always cut and dry. In fact, the difference between manslaughter and murder can sometimes be subjective.

Defining Murder

Murder is committed intentionally and with “malice aforethought,” which means the killer acted without regard for the victim’s life. A murder charge, as well as manslaughter, must have been committed unlawfully. That is to say, if the accused person acted in self-defense, he or she did not commit a crime. The murder need not be intentional for it to be classified as such. If the killer intended to inflict serious bodily harm that led to the victim’s death, it could still be considered an act of murder.

Classifications of Murder

Depending on the circumstances of the killing, it could be classified as either first-degree or second-degree murder. First-degree murder is considered a much more serious crime and will result in more severe penalties. To commit first-degree murder, the court must agree that the killer had intended to kill the victim, usually through a course of deliberate, planned actions. In circumstances where the killing was not intentional, it will likely be considered second-degree murder. However, these classifications vary case-by-case and are determined based on the individual circumstances of each incident.


As with a murder charge, manslaughter must be an unlawful killing. It can also be classified as either voluntary or involuntary, depending on whether the killer intended to end the life of his or her victim or not. The main difference between manslaughter and murder lies in the degree of premeditation and the state of mind of the alleged killer. A murderer planned to either kill or seriously injure his or her victim, whereas someone who commits manslaughter could have killed in the heat of the moment.


The penalties for manslaughter and murder can both be very serious, though murder is generally punished more severely. First-degree murder may result in up to $10,000 in fines and could lead to several decades or life in prison. Second-degree murder could lead to the same fine, though the prison sentence will not exceed 20 years.

In the state of Virginia, manslaughter is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $2,500. However, conviction for a manslaughter crime could result in more serious repercussions, (up to 20 years in prison), if the defendant’s actions were considered wanton or without regard for human life.

Violent crime charges are extremely serious and could drastically change your personal and professional life for the worse. If you are facing charges, make sure you have a knowledgeable, aggressive criminal defense attorney on your side.

Contact The Law Offices of Daniel J Miller for a free consultation.

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