There’s often a lot of confusion surrounding the words murder, manslaughter and homicide. Some people use them as if they are interchangeable and they all mean the same thing. Others will say homicide consistently, as if talking about murder.
But what is the actual difference between these terms? In a legal sense, they are certainly not the same, and that’s important to note if you’re facing charges.
What is a homicide?
First and foremost, a homicide is whenever one person takes another person’s life. This means that a murder is a homicide. However, taking someone’s life through self-defense would also be a homicide. So saying that someone has committed a homicide is not the same as saying that they were convicted of murder or manslaughter. It just means that another person died and that they have been connected to that case. Their innocence or guilt will have to be determined later.
Murder requires intent
When looking at murder charges, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you generally need to have intent to be convicted of murder. You have to think of the event in advance, you have to plan it and then you have to carry it out. If a homicide is the taking of a life, a murder is the intentional taking of a life.
So what is manslaughter?
Manslaughter also fits under the umbrella term of being a homicide, but the difference is that intent isn’t important. You can make an accidental mistake and negligently take someone’s life. This is still your fault and you could be accused of manslaughter, but you didn’t intend to do it, so odds are you won’t be accused of murder.
It makes a big difference what you’re being charged with because of the potential sentences you could face. Murder could get you life in prison, for instance, while manslaughter in Missouri may only get you 5 to 15 years. As noted, there are also reasons in which homicide may be justifiable, such as self-defense. Just make sure you know about all the legal defense options you have.