Most people have heard the words “Murder” and “Manslaughter.” And most people know that both things mean that someone has been killed in a criminal way. But most people don’t know the difference between the two.
There are three kinds of manslaughter: vehicular, voluntary and involuntary. Vehicular manslaughter is more or less what it sounds like. You were in a car accident, you were at fault, and someone died.
The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is a little more subtle. Involuntary manslaughter is an accident gone bad. There was no intent to kill. There really wasn’t much of an intent to do anything, except what you did ended up in someone’s death. For example, and for warning, one of the stupid games that kids play these days is called either the ‘punch game’ or the ‘slap game.’ It is, more or less, what it sounds like. Two kids square off and take turns punching or slapping each other. The first one to (I don’t know what the modern term is so I will date myself to make my point) cry “uncle” loses. So let’s say two kids are playing the punch game and they take turns punching each other in the stomach. They are friends, and there is no ill will. This is what passes for ‘fun’ in their lives. They each get about ten blows in, and then one kid punches a little high and cracks the other kid’s rib, which then punctures his lung and he dies. That’s involuntary manslaughter. In no way shape or form did you mean to kill anyone, but you did, and you should have known that the thing you did could have caused harm. It is like killing by negligence.
Voluntary manslaughter is more of a crime of passion. Let’s say you catch some guy you never liked much in the first place trying to make the moves on your girlfriend. Your girlfriend isn’t having any of it, but he’s a persistent little bugger, and it makes you ridiculously angry to have this joker disrespect the woman you love. You grab him by the shoulders and punch him repeatedly in the face until he stops resisting. By the time you stop and the blood rage has left your head, his face is more or less caved in and there is no rescuing him. That is voluntary manslaughter.
Murder requires some kind of thought and planning. The thought and planning doesn’t have to be all that detailed – it can be in the thirty seconds before the deed is done, but you meant to kill the guy, and you did. How much ‘malice aforethought’ (that’s the legalese term for it – one of the few legalese phrases I think is more beautiful and colorful than regular English) is what makes the difference between manslaughter and murder. If you sat around and planned with your girlfriends exactly how to kill your no-good-cheating husband with a big life insurance policy, and then the next day you go out and follow the plan, that’s first degree murder. But let’s say you didn’t plan on killing him, but he comes home one day smelling like a perfume you’ve never worn, and when you ask him about it he pretends to have no idea what you’re talking about. You know he’s lying, and this is the fiftieth time he’s lied to you, and you’ll be darned if you hear it again. You whip out your trusty .22, put it to his temple and say, “I’m asking you again, whose perfume is that?” You assume that the .22 will be a motivator but, alas, it is not. Knowing from years of child raising that if you don’t follow through with a threat you will forever lose your credibility, you calmly, and with malice aforethought, pull the trigger. That’s murder.
All murders are felonies, but Felony Murder is when you kill someone in the commission of a felony, like when you are robbing someone, or in the middle of a drug deal.
There are lots of specific words for killing that don’t get used much, but I’ll list some of them here anyway. Patricide is when you kill your father; matricide is when you kill your mother. Regicide is killing a king or other royal person. Filicide is killing your children. Homicide just means you have killed a person, and is more of a generic term. You can find more –cide words here.
I would like to think that no one reading this column will ever have any personal experience with any of these words. However, they are all over the newspapers and television shows and the ever popular crime fiction. Sometimes used properly, sometimes not. And now you know.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.