How manslaughter and murder differ in California

Murder and manslaughter are related but result in very different penalties for defendants if convicted in California.

People in California who may find themselves subject to criminal allegations can feel overwhelmed. The various legal terms and process are often confusing. This can be especially the case when serious felony charges are involved, such as murder or manslaughter. Understanding how each of these crimes are viewed under California law can be a good first step to working through such a situation.

The basic difference between murder and manslaughter

As noted by The Economist, both the United States and the United Kingdom recognize a difference between murder and manslaughter. In the former, the defendant is accused of not only killing another person but doing so with intention and premeditation. Manslaughter, by contrast, involves the death of another that was not accompanied by a premeditated plan or even any intention to kill at all.

News stories provide examples

The arrest of a New York City real estate tycoon heir for his alleged role in the death of a woman in California in 2000 is classified as first-degree murder. According to a story published by NBC Los Angeles, this is because the defendant was said to have deliberately waited for the victim and shot her with the goal of killing her.

Vehicular manslaughter is the crime for which a 32-year old California man has been charged after he hit and killed three teenage trick-or-treaters last year. The accident was not planned out ahead of time and no intention to harm or kill the victims was noted. If convicted, the defendant could face 14 years in a state prison.

California penalties for murder

The California legislature website confirms the definition of murder as requiring forethought and mal intent. Abortion can be an exception to this although the National Right to Life site does note that California acknowledges a fetus after seven or eight weeks to be an unborn child and therefore a potential victim.

When an alleged murder involves the use of a destructive weapon, the charge will be in the first degree. Other situations will lead to a second-degree charge.

First-degree murder convictions can result in life imprisonment with no possibility of parole or shorter sentences of 25 years to life. Ultimate penalties can be impacted by different factors including:

  • Whether a hate crime was involved in the murder.
  • If the victim was a peace officer.
  • If the defendant has been convicted of any prior murders.
  • If any financial gain could have been realized by the defendant.

Such factors can also impact the sentencing for a second-degree murder conviction.

What defendants should do

At any time that a serious criminal allegation is charged, help is needed. Talking to an experienced defense attorney promptly is a must in these situations.

Keywords: crime, murder, manslaughter