When it comes to understanding manslaughter vs. murder, Vee Iyer with the Iyer Law Office in Denver can sit down with you and explain the important differences and discuss your case. Before becoming a defense attorney, Iyer worked as a deputy district attorney in Colorado for several years. This gives him valuable knowledge and experience in all stages of criminal law and legal strategy from the perspective of a prosecutor.
Le’s look at the legal differences to help you with understanding manslaughter vs. murder.
Murder or homicide charges are classified at different levels and the classification is mainly due to the difference in the state of mind of the accused person, the way in which the crime is committed, the circumstances surrounding the crime, as well as numerous other complicated factors. A conviction for murder in the first degree, a Class 1 felony, has two possible sentences, death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Manslaughter is considered a lesser crime than murder with lesser penalties, but make no mistake, it is still a very serious felony with serious consequences.
Sometimes the difference in a case is clear and other times it is a very subtle distinction that we will have to fight for. A homicide where the defendant intends to kill or does so with reckless indifference to human life can be either manslaughter or murder. It all depends on the circumstances surrounding the event. Usually, if a defendant kills someone while committing another inherently dangerous felony like a bank robbery, the killing will be considered a murder, not manslaughter. On the other hand, if a death is caused by a defendant when committing a misdemeanor or non-inherently dangerous felony then the charge will usually be manslaughter and not murder.
Let’s take a look at Colorado law.
Understanding Manslaughter vs. Murder: Murder
Colorado Murder in the First Degree (18-3-102)
1.A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if:
(a) After deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person; or
(b) Acting either alone or with one or more persons, he or she commits or attempts to commit arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault as prohibited by section 18-3-402, sexual assault in the first or second degree as prohibited by section 18-3-402 or 18-3-403 as those sections existed prior to July 1, 2000, or a class 3 felony for sexual assault on a child as provided in section 18-3-405 (2), or the crime of escape as provided in section 18-8-208, and, in the course of or in furtherance of the crime that he or she is committing or attempting to commit, or of immediate flight therefrom, the death of a person, other than one of the participants, is caused by anyone.
Intent to cause is also sometimes called malice aforethought which means that person intended to kill or acted with reckless indifference to human life, without legal justification.
Understanding Manslaughter vs. Murder: Manslaughter
Manslaughter is an unlawful killing, but it is missing the malice aforethought or intent.
Voluntary manslaughter typically refers to unintentional killings where the defendant is either criminally negligent or accidentally kills someone while committing a misdemeanor or non-inherently dangerous felony. Sometimes prosecutors will charge a defendant with murder and manslaughter for the same killing. This allows the jury to have the option of choosing murder or manslaughter.
Let’s talk more about the differences in these two types of homicide.
If the defendant intends to kill or does so with reckless indifference to human life which might include intending to inflict serious injury on the victim or committing an inherently dangerous felony. If the defendant kills with any of these mental states it is usually murder. However, certain circumstances will displace intent and reduce the crime to manslaughter.
Aggravating Factors Could Increase Your Sentence
The penalties for voluntary manslaughter may increase if the victim was a minor, a police officer or an unborn child, or if a dangerous weapon was used.
Involuntary manslaughter is based on the violation of a misdemeanor if the misdemeanor statute was designed to protect people, or the defendant violated the statute in a manner that shows disregard for the safety of others. Involuntary manslaughter comes from negligent or illegal behavior that causes a death. A charge of involuntary manslaughter can also be brought as a lesser-included offense along with murder as an option for the jury.
A criminal negligent homicide occurs when the death of a person is caused by the criminal negligent conduct of the accused. A criminal negligent homicide occurs when the accused fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a certain result will occur and the risk must be of such a nature that the accused person’s failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from a reasonable person’s standard of care. The intent to cause death is not material but rather the negligent conduct is one which gives rise to the charge of criminal negligent homicide.
Understanding Manslaughter vs. Murder: Defenses
If a killing is committed in the heat of the moment and after substantial provocation by the victim, then it often will be voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. Keep in mind, the level of provocation must be enough to cause an average person to act rashly and without thinking. If there is a cooling off period, a substantial amount of time between the provocation and the killing, it is unlikely to be reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Self-defense is a complete defense to a charge of taking another life. If you justifiably killed someone to protect yourself, you will not be convicted of murder or manslaughter. How do you prove justification as self-defense? Basically, the defendant must show that the killing happened from a reasonable use of force necessary to resist a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm. The defendant cannot have instigated the threatening situation. The degree of force used in self-defense must be proportional to the threat perceived. Mere words or insults are not enough. The reaction to the threat can’t happen after the threat of death or bodily harm has passed. Proof of retreating or avoiding the danger before resorting to the use of deadly force can help your case.
Defense of Others
Similar to self-defense, the reasonable and proportional defense of others sometimes justifies some killings. The use of force must be timely and proportional to the threat faced, and the perceived threat of death or bodily harm must be reasonable.
Accident or Misfortune
If someone kills someone by accident in the course of lawful activities, it is not usually murder unless it takes place during the commission of a crime or as a result of criminal intentions. The killing could result in a manslaughter charge.
The mistaken identity defense is that it was not you. The prosecution has charged the wrong person with the killing. A defendant gives an alibi to support that the person was somewhere else at the time of the killing or challenges the evidence placing them at the scene of the crime including the witness identification or forensic evidence. This defense could also point to evidence implicating another possible suspect.
Insanity is a defense to murder, usually defined as cognitively being unable to appreciate the quality of the act being committed or unable to realize that the act is wrong.
Exercise of Duty
This defense is usually used in the case of killings by law enforcement and other public officers. If they kill in their exercise of their duty and without an unlawful intent, recklessness or negligence, it does not usually constitute murder.
A conviction for murder in the first degree, a Class 1 felony, has two possible sentences, death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. A conviction for murder in the first degree, a Class 1 felony, has two possible sentences, death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Murder in the second degree is a Class 2 felony, which is subject to mandatory enhanced sentencing as a violent crime, but could be downgraded to a Class 3 felony when the act causing the death was performed upon a sudden heat of passion, caused by a serious and highly provoking act by the intended victim, affected the defendant sufficiently to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person. Manslaughter, a Class 4 felony, occurs when the death of a person is caused by recklessness. Criminally negligent homicide (18-3-105) is a class 5 felony.
When understanding manslaughter vs. murder, it’s important to have an attorney who understands the complicated distinctions between the two. Vee Iyer with the Iyer Law Office in Denver is a knowledgeable and experienced defense attorney who can explain it to you and provide an aggressive defense. As a former Colorado state deputy district attorney, Mr. Iyer has the experience in providing a criminal defense of all levels of homicide, including murder and manslaughter.