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What is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

San Jose criminal defense attorney, murder, manslaughter, California Penal Code, unlawful homicideAs a society, we tend to believe that some types of unlawful homicides (i.e. unlawfully killings) are more morally offensive than others. For example, if someone accidentally causes a fatal car crash, then the perpetrator is often thought to be less morally culpable than someone who plots his wife’s death for months before killing her in cold blood. Therefore, here in California, we divide unlawful killings into different classes of criminal offenses based on the moral culpability of the offender. Most importantly, our state’s criminal code separates unlawful homicides into two categories: murders and manslaughters.

California’s Definition of Murder

Under California Penal Code section 187(a), murder is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.” However, this definition does not include an act that results in the death of a fetus if the act:

  1. Complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act;
  2. Was committed by a licensed physician or surgeon because the resulting childbirth would more likely than not have resulted in the death of the mother or the fetus; or
  3. Was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.

Note that in order for an unlawful homicide to constitute murder in California the act must have been committed with “malice aforethought.” Such malice can either be express malice (i.e. a manifested deliberate intention to unlawfully take away someone else’s life) or implied malice (i.e. when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances surrounding the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart).

California’s Definition of Manslaughter

People who commit manslaughter are often thought to be less morally culpable than those who commit murder because murder involves malice aforethought while manslaughter does not. In California, manslaughter can be either voluntary or involuntary under section 192(a) of the California Penal Code:

  • Voluntary Manslaughter: Voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being without malice upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. For example, if you come home and find your spouse in bed with his or her lover and consequently kill the lover in a fit of rage, then you have likely committed voluntary manslaughter under California law.

  • Involuntary Manslaughter: Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice either during the commission of an unlawful act (not amounting to a felony), or during the commission of a lawful act which might produce an unlawful death, or without due caution and circumspection.

Reach Out to Us for Help

If you have been accused of committing either murder of manslaughter in California, then it is extremely important that you retain the services of an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney without delay. The sooner you hire a lawyer to represent you, the sooner he or she will be able to start gathering evidence and building your defense. In serious criminal cases this process takes time; so, it is often in the defendant’s best interest to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. Defendants located in Northern California can get started today by contacting Jachimowicz Law Group, Attorneys at Law, Inc. today for help.








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