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How Do Murder and Manslaughter Differ?

Charges for manslaughter or murder in California are assessed based upon unique circumstances of each case.

Being accused of a serious crime is something no California resident wishes. When these situations do arise, it is important to become educated about what charges have been entered and what potential criminal penalties can be enacted if a conviction is achieved.

When a criminal charge involves the death of another person or persons, the stakes for penalties and long-lasting consequences are very high. California and the rest of the country does outline different charges relating to criminal deaths based upon the intent or lack thereof of the alleged perpetrator.

An article in the Economist notes that whether or not intent was present in the death can make the difference between a murder charge and a manslaughter charge. The former will be the charge if the defendant is accused of knowing death could result and even wishing to cause such death. Manslaughter, in contract, will be the charge when any death happens with no prior intention or desire to cause death on the part of the defendant.

Real Life Examples

The following stories illustrate the difference between manslaughter and murder charges.

  • An story explained that a man was booked into Santa Clara County jail on a $250,000 bail after a drunk driving accident that claimed the lives of his four passengers. Because there was no premeditated intention to cause harm, he is not charged with murder but with vehicular manslaughter in the deaths.
  • The Greenfield Reporter tells of another man who also faces vehicular manslaughter charges. The reason was a crash that accidentally claimed the lives of three minors who were trick-or-treating on Halloween. Again, the lack of premeditation or wish to harm another person is the reason for the manslaughter, not murder, charge.
  • According to, a 25-year old woman has been charged with murder in the alleged road rage death of a motorcyclist. A witness reported that the woman became angry with the biker and attempted to hit him from the side. Following that, she supposedly hit him from behind, knocking him off his motorcycle and then running him over. She is in jail with no bail.
  • NBC Los Angeles reported that a man was believed to have waited for a woman with the goal of shooting her to death. As such, he was charged with first degree murder.

The California legislature further clarifies the distinction between murder and manslaughter. It notes that mal intent and forethought are involved in murder.

What Should Defendants do?

Certainly both manslaughter and murder charges are very serious. Anyone who is accused of either type of crime should contact an attorney promptly for help.