The Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Justice must be served in every case, meaning the law must punish offenders to the full extent of the law. To ensure that they are, you must be aware of what charges to pursue. In some cases, knowing the difference between murder and manslaughter is important if you want them to impose the appropriate punishments.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between crimes. We’ll talk about the elements that distinguish them from one another as well as the corresponding penalties they carry. Find out more about murder and manslaughter under Arizona law by continuing with this article.

What Is Murder?

To get things started, let’s first define the act of murder. Murder occurs when one person intentionally kills another.

There is a purpose behind the harmful action and the suspect in the case is usually accused of being driven by some form of malice. In other words, when you accuse someone of murder, you’re saying that the intent behind their actions was none other than to kill.

If murder was committed, that means someone died not due to an accident or some negligence. The death was the result of a violent act voluntarily and intentionally committed by another person.

In the state of Arizona, they classify murder into two different types of crimes. You have first degree and second degree murder. Differentiating between those two is important if you’re seeking a conviction against someone and you want them punished with what the law allows.

Defining First Degree Murder

First degree murder is an act of pure evil. It occurs when a person becomes so overwhelmed by their rage or some other malevolent emotion that they resort to intentionally killing someone.

The factor that distinguishes first degree murder from second degree murder is the presence of premeditation.

If the act of murder is deemed to be premeditated, that means that the defendant in question planned ahead of time to kill their target. The death was not the result of an accident or even a reaction to the heat of the moment. First degree murder simply means that one person planned and fully intended to kill another, and they executed that plan.

How long the defendant in the case planned to commit the murder does not matter. The simple act of planning the murder is enough to elevate it to the first degree.

Premeditation also means that the defendant had enough time to reflect on their thoughts and potential actions before committing the crime itself. It means that even after getting the opportunity to think about what they’re doing, the defendant still decided to move ahead with their plan.

There is no need to provide proof of reflection before authorities can convict an individual of first degree murder. As long as the premeditation is evident, the charges will stick.

Penalties for First Degree Murder

Arizona law comes down heavily on anyone convicted of first degree murder. There are different penalties that they may impose on the convicted individual.

First off, a person convicted of first degree murder may receive a life sentence. They may only become eligible for parole after serving 25 years of their life sentence.

In other cases, the defendant goes to prison for life and never becomes eligible for parole. The harshest punishment on someone who committed first degree murder in Arizona is the death penalty.

Defining Second Degree Murder

The presence of premeditation is the defining characteristic of a first degree murder degree charge. Without it, authorities regard the crime in question as second degree murder.

Second degree murder is often the result of unfortunate actions in the heat of the moment. Premeditation may not be evident, but the defendant still likely understood that their actions could lead to someone’s death.

An example may help you better understand what second degree murder is.

Let’s say that you were involved in a minor car accident. After that, you got into a heated argument with the other driver. You became so enraged during that argument that you reached into your car, pulled out a gun, and shot the other driver dead.

You may not have planned to kill that person prior to the accident, but you still allowed your rage to take over. An unjustified killing such as that is second degree murder.

Arizona law also states that someone who “recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person” can be found guilty of second degree murder. The defendant may not have committed any specific action that led to a person dying, but their reckless behavior may still have contributed to what happened.

Penalties for Second Degree Murder

The penalties for committing second degree murder in Arizona are serious.

Convicted individuals may receive a lengthy prison sentence. Typically, the prison sentence ranges from 10 to 25 years in prison. Unlike with the penalties that accompany first degree murder charges, those guilty of second degree murder are not candidates for the death penalty.

What Is Manslaughter?

Now that we’ve talked about murder and its different degrees, let’s focus on another crime that can lead to a loss of life, with that being manslaughter. There are different definitions of manslaughter according to the state of Arizona’s laws.

Manslaughter occurs when a person recklessly causes the death of another. Manslaughter charges can also be levied upon someone who kills another person in the heat of the moment after “adequate provocation.” A defendant may also be found guilty of manslaughter if the harm they brought to a pregnant woman led to that person’s unborn child dying.

Authorities can charge individuals who provide aid to another person’s suicide with manslaughter.

An important thing to note here is that the state of Arizona does not distinguish between voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. A defendant cannot secure a lighter sentence by pushing for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

Penalties for Manslaughter

Compared to what a defendant may receive following a murder charge, the penalties that accompany a manslaughter conviction are relatively lighter.

The prison sentence for a manslaughter conviction can range from as low as seven years to as long as twenty-five years. The death penalty is also off the table in manslaughter cases.

What Is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Now that you know about the penalties that accompany murder and manslaughter charges, it should be easy to understand why some plaintiffs push for murder charges. They want the guilty party punished harshly, and they believe that the penalties that stem from a murder charge are the ones that must be handed down.

The difference in penalties is easy to understand. It’s also easy to see how manslaughter differs from a first degree murder charge. After all, premeditation is also lacking in a manslaughter case.

However, manslaughter and second degree murder cases can appear similar. So, how do those two differ from one another? The difference ultimately boils down to whether there was “adequate provocation” that took place.

Defining Adequate Provocation

Adequate provocation is a term defined in Arizona law as “conduct or circumstances sufficient to deprive a reasonable person of self-control.”

Let’s call back to the earlier example regarding the car accident. We noted earlier that if you kill someone after getting into a heated argument, it can lead to a second degree murder charge.

How does it go from being a second degree murder charge to a manslaughter charge? To distinguish between the two, we need to see if there was an adequate provocation.

For example, the person who hit your car may have been harassing you.

The harassment may have been going on for a while. In a scenario such as that, it would be understandable if you suddenly lost your self-control due to the constant harassment.

Think of the intentional car crash as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. At that point, it would not be unreasonable to think that you may respond violently, even if such an action remains against the law.

Another example would be if you found out that a loved one was abused by another person. Upon discovering that fact, you became overwhelmed by your rage and killed the abuser in the heat of the moment. That is another instance where you losing self-control is understandable, which is why it can be considered as a manslaughter case.

Personal history is often accounted for when trying to differentiate between murder and manslaughter. If there is a personal history there, the jury may lean towards handing down a manslaughter conviction as opposed to murder.

What Is the Difference between Manslaughter and Negligent Homicide?

Thus far, we’ve only focused on defining murder and manslaughter, but you also need to know what homicide is in Arizona law. To be more specific, you should know about the term negligent homicide.

Negligent homicide occurs when the criminally negligent actions of a specific person lead to the death of another.

Deaths that stem from a DUI violation constitute negligent homicide in the state of Arizona. The person who engaged in drunk driving was negligent when they sat behind the wheel of their car. Even if they did not intend to cause anyone harm, their poor decision still had fatal consequences, and they must be held responsible.

You may also be charged with negligent homicide if you accidentally shot someone while hunting or if you accidentally started a fire, which led to someone dying. We talked about the fact that Arizona does not distinguish between voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. In a way, negligent homicide works as a replacement for that crime.

Penalties for Negligent Homicide

The penalties for negligent homicide are considerably lighter than the ones associated to the other crimes we’ve already discussed. Individuals convicted of negligent homicide may spend up to 10 years in prison.

Unlike with the previous crimes, though, a person can avoid prison time even if they are convicted of negligent homicide. Instead of a prison sentence, they may receive probation for an extended time. Violating the terms of probation may still land a convicted individual in prison, however.

How a Lawyer Can Help Your Defense

Being held responsible for the death of another person is a heavy burden to bear. You are likely overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and remorse.  Even so, you must fight for your rights if you are not guilty of the charges against you.

The prison sentences you may serve can vary significantly depending on which crime they charged you with. You need to fight for justice and let the facts of the case determine your fate.

Partner up with a lawyer and start working on your defense. A skilled and experienced lawyer can bring the facts to light and help reduce your prison sentence. Your lawyer can help you avoid a murder charge even if that means being convicted of committing manslaughter.

Lawyers can also help reduce the length of your prison sentence. Instead of spending twenty-five years in prison, you may only serve seven years. If you’re being charged with negligent homicide, your lawyer can help you out by negotiating for probation time instead of a prison sentence.

Wrongful accusations of murder or manslaughter can also be difficult to fight against on your own. Partner with a lawyer and fight for your innocence in court.

You need to take charges of murder or manslaughter seriously. Respond properly to them by partnering with us at the Schill Law Group.

We will fight for the truth in your case and ensure that justice is served. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.