Killing someone unlawfully is called murder and almost every country has punishment for this criminal activity. Most countries have also classified murders into different degrees, such as first-degree, second-degree, third-degree, and fourth-degree murders. Fourth-degree murder is involuntary manslaughter, whereas third-degree murder is voluntary manslaughter. On the other hand, first-degree murder is intentional murder, whereas second-degree murder is an unintentional murder. There are different punishments for different degrees of murders. Here are more to understand the differences.

Difference Between First and Second Degree Murders

Here is a chart to help you understand the difference between first and second degree murder:

Difference in Legal Definition

Third-degree murder (manslaughter) is the category for most murders, but certain factors help distinguish serious kinds of murders. These factors include premeditation, intent, kidnapping, and if there were some special circumstances, such as multiple murders or murder of a law enforcement officer.

First-degree murder refers to grave murder committed in a cruel way under special circumstances. This type of murder is planned against one or more persons. The special circumstances could be hijacking, kidnapping, robbery, and assault on government officials or pregnant women.

On the other hand, second-degree murder is premeditated murder against relatives or spouse. The murder is committed due to personal interest without the presence of any special circumstances like in first-degree murder. It is usually less grave as compared to first-degree murders.

Difference in Penalty

A difference between first and second degree murders is that the criminal is punished differently for both crimes. Someone committing first-degree murder is put behind the bar for at least 25 years, whereas someone committing second-degree murder is put in prison for 10-25 years. Penalty for first-degree murder is usually without parole, whereas someone committing second-degree murder may be imprisoned with or without parole. You may notice some exceptions though, depending on state of mind and age of the murderer. The circumstances surrounding the murder may also make a difference.

Difference Between Murder and Manslaughter

Just like the difference between first and second-degree murders, there are certain aspects that help differentiate between murder and manslaughter. Here is more about it.

Difference in Definition

The intention in the mind of a person killing someone helps differentiate between murder and manslaughter. For someone to commit manslaughter, he/she must have committed a homicide but the act must have been done in the "heat of passion". Murder refers to an act that involves killing someone with malicious intent using violent means. Manslaughter refers to an act that involves killing someone without malice.

Difference in Degree

Murder is categorized in different degrees in the U.S., but all these degrees indicate that the killer wanted to harm or kill the victim even before committing the action. If a murder was premeditated, it is first-degree murder. A murder is second-degree murder if someone kills another person while committing another crime, like killing someone during a bank robbery. On the other hand, manslaughter has two categories: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter refers to a situation when the killer can prove temporary insanity, whereas involuntary manslaughter refers to a situation when someone kills another person without an intention of killing him/her.

Difference in Punishment

Just like degree and definition, there is a difference between murder and manslaughter in terms of punishment. Someone committing a murder will receive a life prison sentence–in some states, they may receive the death penalty. Manslaughter usually brings a suspended or short prison sentence. In some states, the punishment for manslaughter may also include a fine and community service.

Case Examples of First and Second Degree Murders

Case 1

Facts: "Derek comes home and finds Linda, his wife, sexually abused and beaten. He takes his wife to the hospital. His wife tells him that the person who attacked her was Peter who owns the tavern they occasionally visit. After leaving his wife to the hospital, Derek buys a gun, goes to the tavern, and shoots Peter."

Verdict: This could indicate first-degree murder because he took the time to think and buy the gun. This indicates deliberation and premeditation. This would not be considered voluntary manslaughter though because a judge would believe that this does not involve the heat of passion, even though Derek remained angry at the time he killed Peter.

Case 2

Facts: "Richard is walking along a street and out of nowhere, Steve shows up and bumps into Richard. He does not apologize, which makes Richard angry. He pulls out his gun and shoots Steve."

Verdict: This would be a case of second-degree murder because Richard really had the intention to kill Steve. However, it would be difficult to conclude the murder was premeditated, which would make the act a first-degree murder. At the same time, this cannot be considered voluntary manslaughter because it did not involve the heat of passion. The circumstances were enough to provoke Richard but they were not that extreme to make someone lose control.


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