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murder vs manslaughter

Murder vs Manslaughter: What’s the Difference and Why Does It Matter?

What’s the difference between murder vs manslaughter?

The difference is actually very important and can affect the outcome of a trail. For example, someone who has been charged with manslaughter will not spend as much time in prison as someone who was charged with murder.

The sticky part is understanding the difference between murder and manslaughter.

They both result in someone’s death, but the manner of death and the state of mind of the killer is what sets these two charges apart.

Let’s take a look at a few examples to better understand the difference.

The Situation

For these examples, we are going to picture someone pushing another person down the stairs. The reason for pushing a person down the stairs and the way one person pushes the other down the stairs will determine if the death was murder or manslaughter.

So let’s set up a few different scenarios.

First-Degree Murder

First-degree murder is a homicide that was premeditated and planned.

Picture two roommates who don’t have a good relationship. They have been arguing so much recently, one of them (Roommate A) decides to kill the other one (Roommate B).

Roommate A knows Roommate B gets up around midnight every night to use the bathroom. To get to the bathroom, Roommate B has to walk past the stairs.

So Roommate A also gets up a little before midnight and waits for Roommate B to get up. When Roommate B walks past the stairs, Roommate A jumps from his hiding place and deliberately pushed Roommate B down the stairs. Roommate B died from his injuries.


Roommate A intentionally wanted to kill Roommate B, and he planned the murder out in advance. This could be ruled as a first-degree murder.

He could be sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for 25 years. If he does get parole, he will remain on parole for the rest of his life.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder is still a homicide, but it wasn’t premeditated.

This time Roommate A bought take-out for dinner. Before he eats it, Roommate A decides to take a shower.

He meets Roommate B at the top of the stairs after his shower and learns Roommate B has just eaten the dinner Roommate A set-aside. Roommate A gets upset by this and decides to push Roommate B down the stairs, who dies from his injuries.


Roommate A intentionally killed Roommate B, but it was spur of the moment and unplanned.

The sentence could be a minimum of life in prison without chance of parole for 10 years. However, the judge can change the parole date at his own discretion.

Voluntary Manslaughter

This type of homicide is usually called a “heat of passion” crime. The person killed, but only because they were reasonably provoked.

Roommate A has a girlfriend he loves very much. He invites her over to the house one evening and plans to meet her there after work.

When he gets home, Roommate A finds his girlfriend sleeping with Roommate B. Roommate A gets angry and starts a fight with Roommate B and ends up pushing him down the stairs.


There is no minimum sentence for a manslaughter crime, but it could go anywhere from probation to life in prison.

Involuntary Manslaughter

This is an unintentional homicide brought about by criminal negligence.

Roommate A and Roommate B are having what starts out as a simple discussion at the top of the stairs. It soon turns into an argument.

When Roommate B shoves Roommate A, Roommate A shoves him back, accidentally causing him to fall down the stairs.


Again, there is no minimum sentence.

The Differences in Murder vs Manslaughter

Though these two crimes may seem like the same thing at first, they are quite different from each other.

Knowing the differences in murder vs manslaughter can change the outcome of an entire homicide case.

Have you been charged with murder or manslaughter? Contact us and we will get you the legal help you need.

Houston Criminal Law Firm