There are many terms the law uses to describe the taking of another person’s life. Two you will hear the most are murder and manslaughter. While it may seem like they mean the same thing, they do not. The differences are important to understand because they will impact the potential sentences you could receive from a conviction.
How Stuff Works explains the main difference between murder and manslaughter is the intent of the person committing the crime.
Generally speaking, murder is when a person plans to and carries out the killing of another person. They thought about doing it and made a decision to do it. It does not require a long time to consider the act. It could be just a moment of making the choice to take a life.
Because murder is an intended killing, it comes with the stiffest penalties. Life imprisonment is the most common sentence. Before the state ended the death penalty, murder cases were one of only a few types of cases that could carry this sentence.
Manslaughter, on the other hand, does not include making the decision to kill. There is no intent or planning ahead to take a life. This includes crimes of passion that happen just in the moment due to the emotions of a situation or accidental deaths that occur without the intention to kill. Manslaughter can be voluntary or involuntary and can carry harsh sentences depending on the situation.
The key to distinguishing between murder and manslaughter comes down to whether there was the intention to kill another person or not.