Home » Resources » Dictionary » Terms

Definition - What does manslaughter mean?

Manslaughter is a legal term used to identify the crime of killing someone without malice. In comparison, murder is a homicide committed with malice. In plain language, manslaughter is an intentional killing but not one that was planned in advance. Manslaughter can also be further distinguished as voluntary or involuntary. The variances between the definitions and penalties for manslaughter, murder, and other crimes involving death are determined independently by each state. Federal law also provides a definition of manslaughter used in federal criminal prosecutions.

SureHire explains manslaughter

Like murder, manslaughter is an intentional homicide. Both crimes are defined as the unlawful killing of a human being. Both crimes are felonies, meaning they are among the most serious criminal offenses. Because a charge of murder requires malice or the actual plan and desire to kill, manslaughter is sometimes considered a lesser included offense of murder. Sometimes a prosecutor will charge a defendant with both manslaughter and murder to ensure that a jury may still convict the person for the homicide even if there isn?t sufficient proof of premeditation. Where the evidence is clear that the homicide was not premeditated (without malice), manslaughter may be charged as a stand-alone crime.

Federal and state laws define the exact differences between murder and manslaughter, as well as involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide. In addition, court rulings in each state and in federal courts will further refine the specific definition and application of each of these crimes. For instance, a person may be convicted of manslaughter for what is commonly referred to as a ?heat-of-passion? homicide in which he or she acts out of anger and without prior planning or actual intent to kill.

In some states, a person who believes they are reasonably acting in self-defense but fails to satisfy the requirements for a legally valid self-defense claim may be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder. The crime of involuntary manslaughter usually involves an accidental killing in which the perpetrator was negligent or engaged in a non-felony crime that resulted in the death. Individuals involved in vehicle accidents resulting in death may be charged with involuntary manslaughter. To further complicate matters, an entirely different crime is charged when someone is killed during the commission of a felony.

For practical purposes, the difference between manslaughter and murder will impact the evidence that the prosecutor must prove to win a conviction and the penalties that may be imposed if the defendant is found guilty.

Subscribe to SureNews!

Get your Reasonable Suspicion Checklist! Join our community and get access to more resources like this! Emails are sent monthly, so no need to worry, we will not fill up your inbox.