What is the difference between first-degree murder, and second-degree murder and then involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter?
First-degree murder the central part of murder is intent. What is your intention? Malice of forethought that you have the intent to kill someone or cause great bodily harm. We have a fairly natural idea of what this is you kill someone you intend to kill someone, that is first-degree murder. Or if let’s say I want to shank someone with a knife just to teach him a lesson but I don’t intend to kill him but I’m going to make sure they feel and when I knife them I hit their spleen and they end up dying days later that is still first-degree murder because I’ve caused a great bodily harm maybe I don’t intend to kill but I had this malice of forethought. I wanted to cause really intentional destruction to someone.
What’s second-degree murder, how is that different?
Second-degree murder involves reckless abandonment. We don’t intend to kill someone but we have such wanton disregard for life that when someone dies it is so grossly reckless that it’s beyond anything that’s reasonable. Let’s say we’re street racing and I kill someone in another car and even though I wasn’t intending to kill someone I have recklessly abandoned the laws and limitation on our streets. So, we do second-degree murder when you don’t intend to kill someone but it’s so reckless it’s beyond anything that’s reasonable.
What is manslaughter? We have two types of manslaughter we have voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. What’s the difference? There’s a bit of intention there’s a bit of emotion in this. Voluntary manslaughter, you intend to kill someone but it’s in a situation where you are so emotionally overcome that it’s almost an instinct to kill them. The classic example is that a man walks in on his wife committing adultery and in the heat of the moment he kills that person she’s committed adultery with. These are moment of passion crimes you do not have a cooling off period your instinct, your gut reaction is to kill this individual. So, it has to be a situation where you’re so overcome with emotion that you have no chance to think about your actions. It’s a fairly rare circumstance it does happen but it’s fairly rare to have a voluntary manslaughter case.
Involuntary manslaughter is where we have criminal negligence. When somebody’s negligent they’ve acted negligently we several negligence cases where we have criminal negligence. You are doing something that’s negligent and someone dies. So, you’re driving your car you accidentally run a red light you kill someone in another car that is criminal negligence, that’s involuntary manslaughter.
Your street racing you run a red light intentionally to try to beat someone to the finish line and you kill someone in another car that would be second-degree murder. If you’re just driving your normal drive and you get into a car accident it’s usually involuntary manslaughter.
Murder is all about intention it’s all about the state of mind of the person who committed the crime. A couple of famous examples of the murder vs manslaughter debate, the George Zimmerman trial. George Zimmerman was the neighborhood watch individual who was fun young man and they got in altercation and the young man was killed. The prosecutor was debating whether to bring second-degree murder or manslaughter and ask for second-degree murder primarily the big debate is whether this was a criminal negligence for manslaughter or whether it was a reckless abandon for second-degree murder. There was a lot of criticism after that case that perhaps the prosecutor should have just brought the manslaughter case because they lost the second degree murder reckless abandonment. This is a tough call in some cases how the jury’s going to respond to the facts but probably they would have a much better chance of getting some kind of conviction against George Zimmerman if they would have brought a manslaughter case.
Second famous case is Conrad Murray, remember the doctor who was Michael Jackson’s private physician. Conrad Murray was giving Michael Jackson Propofol to help him fall asleep. Again the question became whether this is second-degree murder, was it reckless abandonment of what physicians should be doing of the Hippocratic oath or was it simple negligence he was trying to help him sleep and he just gave too much or wasn’t watching close enough to Michael Jackson’s vitals and Michael Jackson passed away on this Propofol drug.