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What Is the Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter?

Your daily dose of news often includes accounts of people accused of killing another person. When you read further into the story, you may see differing charges for what seems to be the same crime. Why is one person charged with murder while another charged with manslaughter?

Murder is generally the intentional killing of another, or that the accused knew their actions were likely to cause death. Manslaughter, on the other hand, does not require prior intention to kill or knowledge that their actions would potentially be deadly.

The specific details of a case, and a skilled attorney, can make the difference in what charges are filed and how the case proceeds through the judicial system. At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, we know what’s at stake as any homicide charge has severe consequences.

Homicide Charges in New York

When you hear or read “homicide,” you know someone’s life has been taken. The word is an umbrella term with different classifications in New York: criminal or justifiable. For our purposes here, we will examine criminal homicide. As you will see, much of the confusion occurs because the same act can be charged under multiple sections of the New York Penal Code.

Criminal homicide is an umbrella term that includes the following charges:

  • First-Degree Murder. This charge is for the killing of a police officer, firefighter, state correctional facility employee, or other first responder engaged in their official duties when killed. Murder for hire and killing of a witness to a crime are also charged as murder in the first degree. Class A-I felony.
  • Felony Murder. Technically also a first-degree offense, felony murder applies when the victim is intentionally killed during the commission of another crime such as robbery, kidnapping, arson, and rape. Class A-I felony.
  • Aggravated Murder. This charge is for the killing of a police officer, firefighter, state correctional facility employee, or other first responder who was engaged in their official duties when killed. The charge is also for defendants accused of killing someone younger than 14 years old in a particularly cruel manner. Class A-I felony.
  • Second-Degree Murder. In these cases, the defendant recklessly engaged in conduct that created a risk of death to another person. Unintentionally killing another while committing another crime is also murder in the second degree. If an adult also may be charged under this code if they unintentionally kill a person younger than 11 years by engaging in reckless conduct that created a grave risk of injury or death or if an adult kills a person younger than 14 while committing sexual abuse. Assisting in someone’s suicide and killing someone under influence of extreme emotional disturbance also qualify. Class A-I felony.
  • First-Degree Manslaughter. Manslaughter in the first degree can be charged when the defendant intentionally acted to injure the person when they were killed. This can also be charged when the defendant intended the death of the other but was acting under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance. An adult who intends to harm a person under the age of 11 but causes their death instead can also be charged. Class B felony.
  • Second-Degree Manslaughter. A person can be charged with manslaughter in the second degree if they recklessly cause the death of another person. This is also an eligible charge if they intentionally aid another in committing suicide. Class C felony.
  • Criminally Negligent Homicide. This charge is when a person causes the death of another with criminal negligence. The defendant fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such a result will occur or that such circumstance exists. Class E felony.

Other charges under homicide include aggravated criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter in the first and second degrees, aggravated vehicular homicide, and aggravated manslaughter in the first and second degrees. While some states have charges of murder in the third degree, New York does not.

The specifics of the offense, including who was killed and their age, determine how a defendant is charged.

Potential Murder Conviction Sentences

First-degree murder convictions carry a prison sentence of 20 years to life without parole. Murder in the second degree has some variations depending on the circumstances. In situations where an adult causes the death of someone younger than 14 as described above, they will be subject to life imprisonment without parole. Other second-degree felony charges carry a sentence of 15 to 25 years.

Potential Manslaughter Conviction Sentences

First-degree manslaughter, with no prior felonies, is sentenced between 5 and 25 years. The minimum sentence increases if there are prior felonies. For second-degree manslaughter, prison sentences are 2.5 to 15 years with higher minimum sentences if there are prior felony convictions.

Criminally negligent homicide carries a penalty of 1.5 to 4 years.

All Defendants Deserve Skilled Legal Representation

Every attorney at Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC believes all suspects have the right to a fair trial. We do not judge or condemn, but vigorously fight for our clients. Our background, knowledge, and tenacity can help even those facing the most serious charges. We conduct our own due diligence examining every aspect of a case, interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence, and consulting with other experts. We leave no stone unturned.

Accusations of criminal homicide need serious representation. If you are facing charges, contact us right away. Our first consultation is at no charge. Contact us online or call (516) 218-5131.