Usually clients are interested in the difference between murder and manslaughter because this could significantly affect their sentences. For a homicide to occur, the victim must be human (horses, dolphins, etc. do not constitute a homicide). Murder/Common law murder are malice crimes: This means that the defendant recklessly disregarding a substantial risk that a particular harmful result would occur. Murder is only a specific intent crime if there is a statute that provides for that requisite mental state, which is the case in New Jersey.
There are four types of common law murder:
- Intent to kill;
- Intent to do serious bodily harm;
- Depraved heart murder: This requires a reckless indifference to the value of human life (also known as abandoned and malignant heart murder);
- Felony murder: The murder doesn’t require an intent to kill, only that the death occurred during the commission of a felony (the predicate felonies are burglary, arson, rape, robbery, kidnapping, and sodomy).
Generally, the difference between murder and manslaughter is premeditation. There are two types of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Voluntary manslaughter is “heat of passion” manslaughter, an intentional killing committed in the heat of passion. This requires:
- adequate provocation and
- an insufficient opportunity to cool off.
If you have both elements then you are guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. If the provocation was not sufficient or you had a sufficient opportunity to cool off then you will be charged with murder. The most common examples of voluntary manslaughter cases are fist fights where an individual dies or where a spouse catches their significant other in an act of adultery and kills one or both of the parties involved.
The other type of manslaughter is involuntary manslaughter, which is killing with criminal negligence. This requires a gross deviation from the standard of care sufficient to establish involuntary manslaughter. These are the differences between murder and manslaughter.