Dictionary.com

What does manslaughter mean, and how is it different from murder?

The jury in the murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserler returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter today. How can a person cause the death of another without the act being considered a murder?

In the universe of legalese, words can perform in unusual ways. Manslaughter, simply defined, is “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” American law designates two types of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary manslaughter roughly means that accused intended to hurt or possibly kill the victim, but extenuating circumstances influenced the situation. This classification is used if the accused was provoked by the victim, or if the accused was mentally compromised when committing the crime.

Involuntary manslaughter generally applies where death is the unintentional consequence of the actions of the accused. Wikipedia uses this example: “If a person throws a brick off a bridge into vehicular traffic below,” and a person were to die as a result.

U.S. law also distinguishes between types of murder. First degree murder is defined by the planning (premeditation) of the act, whereas second degree is considered a “crime of passion,” the accused killing out of emotional strain or impulse.

49 Comments

  1. Johnd453 -  October 10, 2014 - 2:33 pm

    obviously like your website but you have to check the spelling on several of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling problems and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless Ill definitely come back again. cgbdeeadaeea

    Reply
  2. CreateAFreeWebsite -  October 2, 2012 - 6:18 pm

    The concepts here are very interesting.First Degree and Second Degree Murder. Not sure this will happen in real life. God now there should some third degree murder as well, third degree is quite often heard thing.
    Thanks for sharing

    Reply
  3. WTFO -  December 10, 2010 - 9:05 am

    Y’all make me laugh. This site tries to do something good by giving us information that may be useful in our lives and some of you have nothing better to do than find fault with the data. Reading is fundamental! Read ALL the words; not just what you WANT TO SEE!
    In the United States of America, the terms are defined in the legal word as stated above. In other countries, they have their own words, thoughts, and “justice” system.
    NONE of us should be casting stones at anyone. Causing death to anyone in a harmful manner, intentional or not, pre-meditated or not, is murder. The terms just describe how much time you spend in prison and THAT is defined by how much money you have to hire the best representation you can afford! With THAT, I agree with the person above!
    And remember this, if ANYONE in this world told you life was fair, they lied to you!
    Why is it that no matter WHAT we read, we always have to hear about the unfairness of the slaves? They were plainly mistreated years ago. Can we move on and stop seeing color? If we all stop playing the “race” card in every single conversation, just MAYBE we could all get along.
    GOD!!! WHAT COLOR IS HE/SHE????? Be kind to one another!!! We’re all we have!!! And be THANKFUL for the soldiers providing you the freedom you have!!! It is your CHOICE not to be part of our military. But it’s our military that provides you the freedom to cut them down! How DARE you?!
    Some of you REALLY need to get a REAL LIFE!

    Reply
  4. Wildbreeze -  December 9, 2010 - 2:56 pm

    I don’t like the example of throwing a brick off a bridge into traffic. If you’re in your right mind, there’s no conceivable way you could think that that wouldn’t cause damage. A better example, perhaps, is if a person were driving on a poorly lit street at night, and hit a person wearing dark clothing. If they couldn’t see the person, and had no intention of killing anyone, then that’s involuntary manslaughter.

    Reply
  5. anon -  December 9, 2010 - 11:56 am

    @Morbid: so people about to be killed are to sit and allow themselves to be killed? Are they evil and bad people if they, in trying to prevent their own death kill someone who is about to kill them?

    Reply
  6. Morbid -  November 5, 2010 - 5:49 pm

    Killing is killing no matter what it’s called. There’s no justifiable killing. No matter whatever you think “justifiable” killing is. It’s still just wrong!

    Reply
  7. Justin beiber is terribad -  November 5, 2010 - 2:34 pm

    So war is justified killing… hmmm.. justified by?

    Reply
  8. Kate -  October 25, 2010 - 9:37 am

    I’ve always wanted to know the difference. Thanks :)

    Reply
  9. The cat's purr -  July 13, 2010 - 2:38 am

    oops. suppose to say terminology that does NOT have relevance in the real world

    Reply
  10. The cat's purr -  July 13, 2010 - 2:37 am

    WOW I normally love these debates but who let Mr Monkey IQ in?
    It would be safe to say that the legal world has its own terminology that does have relevance in the real world. Great thought happening though.

    Reply
  11. magic texta -  July 11, 2010 - 5:45 pm

    Opps… Looks like I put my foot in it agen. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like that, all I was asking was “what is it called”?

    I’m not against the soldiers risking their lives for global safety, In fact, I’m in full support of it. I just wanted to know the legal terminology.

    Thx 4 the info.

    Reply
  12. R.D. Bharadwaj -  July 10, 2010 - 12:28 am

    Thanks for explaining two seemingly similar terms / words, but meaning quite different things. This forum really helps us to clarify your doubts and know in details the nity-grity of minute differences of words. It is interting to read this column daily.

    R.D. Bharadwaj, New Delhi

    Reply
  13. JfromI -  July 9, 2010 - 4:52 pm

    PHILIP, BREENAH RUSH, Tabatso and others:

    It is unnecessary to yell for your whole post.

    Simple rule: All caps = YELLING!

    Reply
  14. Curly Hair -  July 9, 2010 - 10:24 am

    Ocean:

    You wrote, “So then, what’s the difference between second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter? VM is defined above, “This classification is used if the accused was provoked by the victim” whereas SDM is “killing out of emotional strain or impulse;” wouldn’t that be provoked, as well?”

    No.

    SDM just means that is wasn’t planned, that the person just killed out of emotional strain at the time, as opposed to FDM, which is premeditated.

    VM, on the other hand, has nothing to do with whether it was planned or not.

    Reply
  15. RaRa -  July 9, 2010 - 6:53 am

    it’s called protecting YOUR ass, be grateful to the soldiers!

    Reply
  16. Saddened -  July 9, 2010 - 6:13 am

    It is disturbing to know that a person can receive a lesser charge for being provoked (a little or a lot??) by someone and a lawyer saying that they have emotional problems?? …it is a serious matter to take a life. It will be accounted for. Amazing….stay away from unstable people – they can get away with it.

    Reply
  17. Joe -  July 9, 2010 - 6:06 am

    What is the word for a goverment/intelligence orgnaisation killing about 3000 people of their own so they can get an excuse to invade two soveriegn countries. Any human being with half the IQ of a monkey knows how three high rise builidngs came down? one of which wasn’t struck by anything.

    Reply
  18. J.B -  July 9, 2010 - 5:48 am

    Is there any special word for stoning a woman to death?
    It is intentional but is it murder, Specially when it is
    for nothing but I guess in the Middle East human torturing
    killing innocent people is acceptable

    Reply
  19. Josef -  July 9, 2010 - 5:27 am

    Dear magic texta,
    In WAR, the term is “Defending your Country and your FREEDOM”. It give YOU the right to comment, offer criticism and protest, but remember; others have fought and DIED for thaat right that you savor here in the good old USA.
    Try not to be so politically correct and enjoy the freedom that others have provided for you…

    US Marine 1964-1969(Ret.)

    Reply
  20. Giveit A. Rest -  July 9, 2010 - 4:05 am

    They’re preserving your taken-for-granted freedom. That’s what it’s called.

    Reply
  21. Wondering -  July 9, 2010 - 3:48 am

    and how is that “justifiable” homicide?

    Reply
  22. Tony -  July 9, 2010 - 3:31 am

    What if someone kills by passion? Eg:- My wife loves me so much and she doesnt want me to touch another lady or another lady touch me. so she plans to kill me.
    If she succeeds in killing me what will that be called

    Reply
  23. TEBATSO -  July 9, 2010 - 2:58 am

    TO MY UNDERSTANDING,KILLIN PPL IS NT ALLOWED..IN PLAIN ENGLISH IT IS MURDER…

    Reply
  24. AbandonedFactories -  July 9, 2010 - 2:57 am

    Its not that ‘definitively’ justifiable. Whether it is absolutely capable of being shown as right or just or warranted is where that issue becomes ambiguous. Not debating the term, just its aptness. If you could ever indubitably say that it is just would make you the envy of many philosophers and poets, and maybe even something of the divine. I think homicide is the only word that will truly suffice without knowledge of the vast framework of existence.

    Reply
  25. BREENAH RUSH -  July 9, 2010 - 2:49 am

    MURDER? JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE? INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER? EITHER WAY YOU SLILL TOOK ANOTHER HUMANS LIFE. SO WHATEVER COLOR YOU WANT TO PAINT THE PICTURE IT STILL ALL COMES DOWN TO THE KIND OF JUSTICE YOU GET DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ARE AND HOW MUCH MONEY YOU GOT TO SPEND. IF YOU HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO SPEND YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH MURDER.
    I MAY SOUND SYNICAL BUT MOST PEOPLE KNOW IT’S THE TRUTH. FOR ENOUGH MONEY YOU CAN BUY THE BEST LAWYER TO BUY YOU ALL THE JUSTICE YOU WANT.
    I WAS WATCHING A SHOW ON TV WHERE A LOT OF MEN HAD BEEN FREED FROM PRISON WHO HAD BEEN WROGLY CONVICED AND HAD SPENT 20 YRS PLUS IN PRISON FOR RAPES AND MURDERS AND WERE INNOCENT, THIS WAS BEFORE DNA TEST SET THEM FREE. MOST WERE POOR AND BLACK. I KNOW WHAT YOUR THINKING. NO NOT ANOTHER CRUSADER IM WHITE I JUST CALL IT AS I SEE IT. MONEY BUYS JUSTICE

    Reply
  26. huizhe -  July 9, 2010 - 1:34 am

    @rick
    The term is more like “government-sanctioned homicide”. Not all wars are just, and not all killing by soldiers is just or justifiable, government sanctioned or not. Not even in a war. I won’t presume to state any rule about what distinguishes justifiable from unjustifiable killing in war. The best that can be done — IMHO at least — is to examine each case and judge each on its merits. Genuine cases of self-defense are probably always justifiable homicide, but they are ironic cases because both the killer and the killed can make the same claim.

    Reply
  27. Steve Kasian -  July 8, 2010 - 11:57 pm

    Leave it to a mindless lefty loon to leave a political message in the comments section of a dictionary page. (A loon who can neither spell nor properly form sentences.) lol

    Reply
  28. Aman HARI -  July 8, 2010 - 11:16 pm

    Is there any third degree murder also?

    Reply
  29. Nine Weeks author -  July 8, 2010 - 10:43 pm

    The definitions of the crimes described are prescribed by law. War is the legal sanction of killing for political purposes, so killing within the laws of war and rules of engagement is perfectly legal. No murder. No manslaughter. Just plain old legal killing. And thank the troops for it.

    Reply
  30. Justin Bieber sucks -  July 8, 2010 - 10:15 pm

    Hmm…justifiable homicide. Thanks guys, I learned something new.

    Reply
  31. GOD -  July 8, 2010 - 9:36 pm

    Justice has been served. A jury of his peers heard the evidence and acted accordingly. Can we all just get back to work now?

    Reply
  32. Whuh? -  July 8, 2010 - 9:03 pm

    Your definition of voluntary manslaughter and second degree murder seem the same in that the person kills someone while not being in their right mind. I don’t see a difference.

    Re: wartime murder … There’s nothing justifiable about killing men, women and children civilians, but whatever floats your boat. Politics and law (not morality) have gone hand-in-hand since their inception.

    Reply
  33. Fred Blog -  July 8, 2010 - 8:40 pm

    @ magic texta
    They are not murdering or manslaughtering they are just killing

    Reply
  34. oemar00 -  July 8, 2010 - 8:35 pm

    By that definition our embargo of Iraq that have caused half million babies died also could be considered justifiable homicide.

    It must be the same with Israel embargo of Gaza, preventing people from getting medicine and all that.

    Reply
  35. SamD -  July 8, 2010 - 8:10 pm

    @magic texta

    Also “casualty of war”

    Reply
  36. obama_the_nation_destroyer -  July 8, 2010 - 7:47 pm

    magic texta — yoda said it perfectly. Justifiable homicide. There is no other description. The “killing” you appear to be confused about might be better demonstrated (and you might learn something) by watching the videos of innocent people having their heads cut off by radical Islamic pig dung, using dull knives.

    Reply
  37. lawhawk -  July 8, 2010 - 7:35 pm

    The definitions of both manslaughter and second degree murder, at least as used in the majority of American jurisdictions, are off. Voluntary manslaughter is usually in no way related to a mental defect and often does involve the mental state of ‘malice’ as the term is used at common law. Most commonly, ‘heat of passion’ killing is termed voluntary manslaughter – the most familiar example being the homicide of someone when you catch your spouse engaged in intercourse with that person. Voluntary manslaughter also usually includes ‘imperfect self-defense,’ when a person kills in self defense but their belief in the need to do so or the degree of force necessary was not objectively reasonable. Second degree murder is so-called ‘depraved heart’ (knowing the result is substantially likely to occur or with reckless indifference to a serious risk to human life), homicide that results when the intent was only to cause serious bodily harm, or, sometimes, homicide that results when the death occurs during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.

    Reply
  38. PHILIP -  July 8, 2010 - 7:31 pm

    THERE ARE HUMANS WHO ARE SO MENACING, MENDACIOUS, ABIDING MALEFACTORS, AND CONSTANT THREATS, THAT EVERYONE ELSE IS BENEFITED BY DEATH OF THOSE WHO ARE indistinguishable FROM A HORRRIBLE VIRUS.

    Reply
  39. Ocean -  July 8, 2010 - 7:25 pm

    So then, what’s the difference between second degree murder and voluntary manslaughter? VM is defined above, “This classification is used if the accused was provoked by the victim” whereas SDM is “killing out of emotional strain or impulse;” wouldn’t that be provoked, as well?

    Reply
  40. schmoo -  July 8, 2010 - 6:06 pm

    Interesting information!
    How do they tell whether someone that has just killed another person is telling the truth? I mean wouldn’t anyone who had killed another person say it was an accident even if it had been voluntary? It would be awful is someone got charged for involuntary manslaughter when it was voluntary or even murder.

    Reply
  41. Professor -  July 8, 2010 - 5:53 pm

    Justifiable Homicide: Homicide that is committed in self-defense, in defense of another and esp. a member of one’s family or sometimes in defense of a residence, in preventing a felony esp. involving great bodily harm, or in performing a legal duty and that is justified under the law with no criminal punishment imposed.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/homicide

    Manslaughter, murder, voluntary, involuntary, first degree, second degree – these are legal terms. Legal terms deal with law, not with moral issues.

    Regardless of what anyone thinks about soldiers killing people, providing a soldier operates within the confines of the rules of engagement he has not commited a crime.

    Reply
  42. LOL -  July 8, 2010 - 5:44 pm

    Is it just me or is “justifiable homicide” somewhat of an oxymoron.

    Reply
  43. rick -  July 8, 2010 - 5:01 pm

    @magic texta

    The term is justifiable homicide.

    Reply
  44. mismatch -  July 8, 2010 - 4:39 pm

    thanks for clearing that up for me..i vaguely knew the difference in meanings but now i clearly can define a difference!! thanks again!

    Reply
  45. magic texta -  July 8, 2010 - 4:38 pm

    Is there any special word for killing people in war. Its intentional, but is it murder? Like in the war in the middle east, what are those US troops doing? Murdering, Mansluaghtering, or just plain Killing?

    Reply

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top