Manslaughter and murder are both serious felonies in the state of Massachusetts. If you are charged with either, you should take steps to understand what these charges mean and consult with an attorney to determine the best means of defense. You may not understand what the difference between these two charges is, though, and this is also something you should familiarize yourself with.
There are several key differences separating a manslaughter charge from a murder charge. In some cases, a murder charge may be reduced to a manslaughter charge through plea bargaining, but there are still a few important differentiations to note. Following are three of the most important differences between a manslaughter charge and a murder charge.
1. Premeditation and motive
Perhaps the most important difference between these two charges is the question of premeditation and motive. A murder charge will likely result when a person is killed in a clearly motivated and premeditated act. A manslaughter charge, however, may be more appropriate when a killing occurs in the heat of the moment with little or no forethought. The latter is typically characteristic of "crimes of passion" that the perpetrator did not plan.
2. Criteria for conviction
In addition to differences in motive and premeditation, there are different standards of criteria required for conviction between murder and manslaughter. Because manslaughter is typically a lesser crime, the evidence and case required for a conviction may also be lesser than that required for a murder conviction. This is one reason why murder charges are sometimes downgraded to manslaughter charges—there may simply be insufficient evidence for the prosecution to proceed with a murder case.
3. Potential consequences
There are, of course, differences in the potential consequences for manslaughter and murder convictions. According to the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, manslaughter convictions can result in a lifetime prison sentence. Murder, similarly, is punishable by life in prison, but manslaughter convictions are likely to receive lesser sentences than murder convictions. The sentence is also dependent upon the degree of the crime, which is determined by the jury.