Second Degree Murder vs Manslaughter
Learning the difference between second degree murder and manslaughter might interest you as murder and manslaughter are two popular terms heard today. Whether it be in the movies, news or day-to-day conversations, the words are known to us all. However, not many of us are aware that these two terms are further divided into sub-categories such as First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter or Involuntary Manslaughter. Second Degree Murder refers to an intentional killing that was not planned beforehand. Manslaughter, on the other hand, involves an unlawful killing, but without any evil intention to commit the act of killing. Although there is a difference, most people tend to mix up the two terms as meaning an unlawful killing committed in a “heat of passion”. An explanation is thus required.
What is Second Degree Murder?
Second Degree Murder is commonly defined as a death that happens as a consequence of a violent act. As mentioned before, this type of murder differs from First Degree Murder in that the latter constitutes a premeditated, intentional killing as opposed to a killing that is intentional, but not so premeditated. It is sometimes understood as the type of killing that falls in between First Degree Murder and Manslaughter.
Most jurisdictions generally define Second Degree Murder as involving “malice aforethought” and the absence of premeditation and deliberation. Second Degree Murder must be proved through evidence of the defendant’s intent to inflict violence or grievous bodily harm or that the defendant intended on acting in a way that resulted in death. This type of murder should not be confused with acts committed in the “heat of passion”.
The precise definition of Second Degree Murder varies with each country. Some countries do not even categorize murder into different degrees. However, the core elements that constitute the crime of Second Degree Murder are essentially the same in any nation. Simply put, in the case of Second Degree Murder, the killer did not plot, scheme or plan the crime. At the exact moment the crime was committed, the killer intended on killing the victim. This mental element and the circumstances surrounding the crime are vital in establishing the crime of Second Degree Murder.
What is Manslaughter?
Think of Manslaughter as murder, that is an unlawful killing, but without the mental element. This means an unlawful killing is committed, but there is no malice or evil intent to do so. Similar to Second Degree Murder, Manslaughter does not contain a prior plan or scheme to commit the unlawful killing of a person. Furthermore, there is no evil intention.
As mentioned above, Manslaughter is divided into categories: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary Manslaughter commonly refers to a killing committed in the “heat of passion”. This means that the act was not pre-planned or plotted before, but the circumstances that led up to the act caused serious emotional distress such as rage or fear. These circumstances provoked the killer to commit the crime. “Heat of passion” crimes are best illustrated by situations such as a spouse caught in the act of adultery or a drunken fight between two persons that leads to a violent act causing death. Involuntary Manslaughter refers to a situation where death results from a negligent act or a failure to exercise the legal duty of care. Acts committed under this category usually include death as a result of drunk driving or reckless driving.
The reason for the confusion between Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter is because both acts are committed at that particular moment in time. There is no element of a pre-planned act. They differ, however, according to the circumstances surrounding the crime.
What is the difference between Second Degree Murder and Manslaughter?
• In the case of Second Degree Murder, the act of killing, although not pre-planned, must be accompanied by an intention to cause death or inflict serious bodily harm.
• Manslaughter, however, involves an unlawful killing, but the intention to kill or malice aforethought, is absent. Thus, in a case of Manslaughter, the mental element of intention is not present.
• Second Degree Murder does not include crimes committed in the “heat of passion” while Manslaughter primarily includes such crimes.
• The sentence for Second Degree Murder is life imprisonment while Manslaughter may receive a fairly lesser sentence depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime.