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Murder vs. Manslaughter—Why are They Different?


murderIn shows like “Law and Order,” judges and lawyers use terms like “murder” and “manslaughter,” but these aren’t always well defined. The differences between each criminal act aren’t always evident, unless the jury instructions have spelled them out.


Manslaughter is a killing that may happen accidentally. The suspect doesn’t intend to do harm. They may even respect the victim’s life. The suspect may have acted in a way that endangered lives. A Kansas City criminal lawyer will specify between voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter in front of the judge and prosecutor.

Voluntary manslaughter means the suspect killed the victim because circumstances pushed him beyond his ability to control his reactions. This is a “heat of passion” crime.

Involuntary manslaughter means an unintended killing. A Kansas City criminal defense lawyer may look for other crimes, such as DUI, that may have led to the death of the victim. If the suspect killed someone as a result of extreme recklessness, he may face a second-degree murder charge. This is more serious.


This is a criminal homicide that involves planning and bad intent. That is, the suspect intended to cause harm and kill the victim. According to John Anthony Picerno, degrees of murder are argued in criminal trials—first-degree murder is the most serious.

For a crime to rise to the level of murder, a good prosecutor will present evidence that proves every element of the crime to a jury. The defendant’s actions can’t be explained away by any defense or justification.

What’s the Difference?

When a killing is accidental, it’s more likely to be called manslaughter. But some details of the crime may push that killing up to a second-degree murder charge, such as the defendant’s carelessness.

It isn’t easy for a judge, jury or lawyer to decide if someone is guilty of manslaughter or murder. The best indicator of a murder case is the defendant’s awareness of the risks he is taking with the victim’s life.

If you are facing a murder or manslaughter charges in Missouri the Kansas City criminal defense lawyers here at the Law Office of John A. Picerno will stand by your side. Contact us for representation today!