What’s The Difference Between Homicide, Murder, And Manslaughter?

Law and Order

Most people are confused with these three seemingly interchangeable terms: homicide, murder, and manslaughter. You’ll hear news regarding a defendant who was found guilty of a homicide or a murder, while you can also read articles with another accused charged with manslaughter. These three are all serious charges, but people often see manslaughter as the worst among the two, which is not the case. This is why you need to undedrstand the three types of murder charges in California. It can give you an advantage in understanding news and legal processes inside your state.

If you are one of those who can’t seem to differentiate homicide, murder, and manslaughter, here’s the explanation you need. 


Homicide is the act of killing a person. It is a broad term to discuss, but the first thing you should know is that homicide can both be justified and illegal.  

An example of a circumstance that justifies homicide is when you need to kill someone as a form of self-defense. Soldiers kill other soldiers. They commit homicide, but it’s not considered a crime. Likewise, when you kill an intruder within your property, the act is justified because the intruder is not legally permitted to be on your property. On the other hand, homicide sans the justifying circumstances is outrightly illegal. If committed with the intent to cause harm, then it could qualify as murder. 


Murder is a type of killing with a wanton intent to inflict harm on another person. The term ‘malice aforethought’ is also called unjustified killing, whereas there is an intention to kill. This reckless act is punishable as murder based on the California Penal Code Section 187. All murders are illegal because one of their main elements is ‘mens rea’ or evil intent. It also has varying degrees. 

  • First-degree murder penalizes premeditated or planned killings, most especially killings of children, persons with disabilities, or anyone vulnerable. It also includes unintentional killings while purposely committing another felony or serious violence like rape, burglary, or robbery. California’s penalty for first-degree murder is at least 25 years in prison.
  • Second-degree murder is intentional killing and reckless acts that hardly affect human life or the welfare of other people. All the killings under this degree are not premeditated or planned. The state punishes second-degree murderers with at least 15 years in prison. 
  • The last is known as capital murder. These are the killing with exceptional circumstances. California state has 20 events falling under capital murder. Some common types of capital murder are murder in a hate crime or a public servant and financial gain. 

Another worst example of felony murder is when someone who has a role in the crime dies. All the remaining and alive co-conspirators or participants in the crime would be charged with felony murder.


Manslaughter is still considered a homicide, which can also be unintentional. However, it is much less severe than murder and could be classified as voluntary, involuntary, or vehicular manslaughter.

  • Voluntary manslaughter is the intention of killing someone in the heat of passion. The primary purpose is to kill someone or cause harm, but it isn’t planned. The defendant can end up on an 11-year prison sentence once found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
  • Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional crime. It isn’t also organized, and the accused doesn’t intend to kill. However, penalties can be imposed since negligence or reckless actions still lead to the victim’s death. Involuntary manslaughter takes the defendant up to 4 years in prison.
  • Vehicular manslaughter refers to the death of a person from a vehicular accident with an intoxicated driver. Some states charged vehicular homicide as a sole crime, but some include it under involuntary manslaughter. The penalty for vehicular manslaughter depends on the circumstances and facts presented. Sometimes, the state charges it as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Open up to a lawyer

Learning the difference between the three different types of crime is a must for every citizen of California. However, if you happen to face or witness such offenses, knowledge of their differences and similarities won’t suffice. In that case, you’ll need legal backup. 

You need to work and open up to the right lawyer and decide the best thing to do. Lawyers know how to fight your case in court. They can also help you mitigate, justify, or eradicate your guilt. Speak with one today.

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