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Murder vs. Manslaughter vs. Homicide in California – What’s the Difference?


Murder, manslaughter, and homicide are all serious charges in the state of California that, if they lead to a conviction, can have a serious impact on the rest of an individual’s life. While all three of these terms are related to the death of an individual as a result of a crime, the consequences vary depending on the classification.

In California, it’s important for individuals to be clear on the different legal definitions and penalties associated with murder, manslaughter, or homicide charges. That way, they can understand the charges that they are facing and get help from legal counsel to craft a strong defense strategy.

Classifying California Crimes That Lead to Death

In the state of California, there are three ways of categorizing crimes that lead to the death of an individual, which are homicide, manslaughter, and murder. Homicide, in general, refers to when a person takes the life of another individual, either legally or illegally. Murder and manslaughter, therefore, fall under the term of homicide.

Murder is considered to be carried out when an individual intentionally kills another individual, and it is always illegal. It is considered to be much more serious than manslaughter and, to be convicted, it must be proven that the killing was done with intent and malice.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, happens as the result of an individual accidentally or unintentionally taking the life of another individual.

For all homicide charges, whether they are murder or manslaughter charges, the severity can vary based on the details. Therefore, the resulting penalties can vary as well, as a judge may decide on lighter or harsher sentencing, depending on the case.

However, when crimes that require mandatory minimum sentencing have been committed, judges cannot decide on sentencing based on their own discretion. A person can also be charged with homicide for not taking proper action to prevent a death.

The Different Degrees of California Murder

Murder in California is taken very seriously by the courts and varies in severity based on the degree. For a crime to be classified as murder, malice and intent must be proven. There are three degrees of murder in California, including first-degree, second-degree, and capital murder.

Second-degree murder is murder without having the premeditated intent of killing. Premeditated killing means that the murder was plotted or planned in advance of carrying out the crime. This degree of murder is typically the result of negligence or recklessness, and it is not as severe as first-degree charges. If convicted on second-degree murder charges, an individual can spend up to 15 years in prison.

First-degree murder requires premeditation and is more serious than second-degree murder. If convicted of first-degree murder, the maximum time that a person can spend in prison is 25 years. Under the first-degree murder umbrella, you can have felony murders. A felony murder is the result of an accidental killing during the intentional carrying out of another crime. Depending on the case details, such an unintentional murder can also be voluntary manslaughter.

Capital murder is also a type of first-degree murder, and it has the greatest associated penalties. An individual is charged with capital murder if it is considered by the courts to be a particularly brutal murder in planning or nature.

Handling California Homicide Charges

California homicide charges are serious charges to be up against, whether an individual is being charged with vehicular manslaughter or capital murder. However, it’s important to remember that, to convict an individual on murder charges in California, the evidence against them must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore, it is critical to work with a strong criminal defense lawyer who can protect your interests and potentially get your murder charges dropped or downgraded.


Q: What Is the Definition of Homicide in California?

A: In California, homicide is a term used to refer to the killing of an individual by another individual, whether it is legal or illegal. For example, if a soldier kills a soldier from another country during active duty, then this is considered to be legal homicide. However, if a husband in California intentionally kills his wife, then this is an illegal homicide. Murder and manslaughter are both forms of homicide.

Q: What Is Worse in California, Manslaughter or Murder?

A: In the state of California, manslaughter and murder charges fall under the umbrella of homicide crimes. Murder charges are typically more serious than manslaughter charges because they require the intentional killing of another person, while manslaughter can be accidental. If you have been charged with murder or manslaughter charges in California, it’s important to speak with a defense attorney to understand what your potential associated penalties are.

Q: What Is the California Three Strikes Law?

A: In California, the Three Strikes Law increases the penalties associated with committing a crime if an individual commits three or more violent or serious felonies. The third charge, if convicted, can lead to a sentence of 25 years in prison or time in prison for life. This law is controversial in the state of California and the focal point of much legal debate.

Q: What Is the Difference Between California Manslaughter and Third-Degree Murder?

A: Third-degree murder and manslaughter are considered to be the same thing in California. They are both terms used to refer to the accidental killing of another person due to reckless or negligent behavior or actions. The three types of manslaughter in California are voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, and vehicular manslaughter.

Protect Yourself Against California Homicide Charges

Facing homicide charges in California can be extremely intimidating. As the associated penalties are typically severe, having a criminal record can impact your life forever, and such charges can tarnish your reputation. At Ernenwein & Mathes, LLP, our criminal defense lawyers have years of experience fighting for our clients against unfair or harsh homicide charges. Our firm works to defend their rights and pursue optimal case outcomes. Contact our California criminal defense law office today to find out about how we can help you with your case.

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