Murder vs Homicide vs Manslaughter

In Massachusetts, there are different laws and punishments for murder and manslaughter. If you have been charged with murder, homicide or manslaughter, it is advised to get in touch with Attorney Nathan as soon as possible to mount a strong defense for these serious charges.

The first thing to understand in Massachusetts and across the US legal system is that ‘homicide’ is a legal term for any type of killing of a human being. Homicide is usually but not always an unlawful killing. It is possible for a homicide to be legal such as in self-defense, or if the police justifiably kill a criminal suspect. Murder and manslaughter are both unlawful types of homicide, but are very different in how they are treated legally.

Below is more information about the homicide crimes of murder and manslaughter in Massachusetts.

Murder Definition in Massachusetts

Under common law, which is law that originates from court decisions and custom instead of statutes, murder is defined as an intentional killing that is unlawful and is committed with ‘malice aforethought.’ Malice aforethought does not mean that the killer was necessarily acting out of hate or spite. It exists in a homicide if the person intended to kill another person without any excuse or legal justification. Also, in Massachusetts and most states, malice aforethought is not just limited to purposeful killings. It also can happen if:

  • The killer causes serious bodily harm that causes the death of the victim
  • The killer behaves in a manner that shows reckless disregard for life that results in the death of the victim

In Massachusetts today, murder is defined by statute, although the current statutes derive from common law. In this state, there are statutes that detail two different types of murder:

  • First degree murder
  • Second degree murder

Massachusetts state law states that first degree murder is when a person intentionally kills another person with premeditation and with purpose. The crime of first degree murder is described in MGL Chapter 265, Section 1. The statute notes that you can be charged with first degree murder if you also committed a felony in the state that led to the death of another person. In this type of charge, the prosecution does not have to prove that the killing was done on purpose. Rather, it simply must show that you killed the person while committing another felony. First degree murder in Massachusetts of this type is also referred to as felony murder.

A felony murder example in Massachusetts is where you rob a liquor store, and during the crime, you shoot and kill a security guard. You may not have intended to kill the guard, but it will be charged nonetheless as first degree murder. Also, if you commit a homicide in this state that is deemed especially savage or cruel, you can be found guilty of first degree murder.

First degree murder is treated very differently from manslaughter in this state in terms of punishment. You can be sent to prison for life without a possibility of parole.

Second degree murder is also different in Massachusetts than manslaughter. Second degree murder is detailed in MGL Chapter 265, Section 1. Second degree murder happens when you intentionally commit a homicide against under person, but there was no premeditation. For you to be convicted of this crime, it must have been committed with malice aforethought. This type of homicide usually happens in the heat of the moment. It does not involve thinking about it beforehand. When the homicide occurred, you intended for it to happen, but you did not plan the murder beforehand.

For example, if you come home and discover your spouse having an affair and kill them both in the heat of the moment, this will likely be charged as second degree murder. You did not plan to kill your spouse, so there was no premeditation. When the homicide occurred, you had a full intent upon killing her. This shows that you had malice aforethought, which is a requirement for a murder charge in Massachusetts. Remember, malice aforethought means that you intended to commit a crime that a reasonable person would understand is likely to cause serious injury or death.

Second Degree Murder

Second degree murder in this state also can be charged if you commit some type of felony and there is a death. This is also called felony murder in this state. If you steal a truck and run over a pedestrian on the sidewalk while driving away, this is felony murder.

For a second degree murder conviction, you can be put in prison for life, but have a possibility of parole after 15 years. The punishment for second degree murder differs from first degree in that you may waive your right to trial by jury and have a bench trial decided by the judge.

Manslaughter Definition in Massachusetts

Manslaughter in Massachusetts is different in how it is treated compared to murder. Manslaughter is either voluntary or involuntary.

Voluntary manslaughter means the killing of another human being on purpose, but there was some sort of mitigating factor in play. Voluntary manslaughter is defined in MGL Chapter 265, Section 13.

Some mitigating factors could be that it was committed in the heat of passion when you were reasonably provoked. Or, you committed the homicide in heat of passion because of sudden combat, or, you used excessive force in self defense.

Difference Between Voluntary Manslaughter and Murder

Both crimes are homicides, but voluntary manslaughter means that your thinking was altered by emotional stress or excitement, to the point where a reasonable person could have also acted impulsively and committed the act. For the homicide to be voluntary manslaughter and not murder, there must have been an element of either reasonable provocation or emotional excitement.

Note that the provocation needs to have been reasonable. It is not enough of a provocation if someone insults you and you kill them. If you kill a person because of an insult, you will be charged with second degree murder, most likely.

A voluntary manslaughter conviction in Massachusetts may result in 20 years in state prison.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter is defined as killing another human being, but it was unintentionally caused by your wanton or reckless conduct. What is ‘wanton and reckless?’ It refers to conduct that creates a strong chance that substantial harm will result to another human being. For example, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or drag racing on a public road that kills another person would be involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter also may occur when you commit battery in such a way that it is so violent that serious harm is likely. It is an act that is so clearly dangerous that you should have known that it could be fatal. The best way to think of this concept is hitting someone in the head with a club or bat.

You can receive up to 20 years in state prison for an involuntary manslaughter conviction in Massachusetts.

If you have any questions about murder or manslaughter charges in Massachusetts, please contact Attorney Nathan today for a complimentary consultation.

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