Manslaughter vs. Murder: What’s the Difference?
When a person’s actions cause someone else’s death, they may face criminal charges if there is enough evidence to indict. Homicide is the general legal term that refers to the killing of one human being by another. Manslaughter and murder are two classifications of homicide, distinguishable by whether the crime was committed with malice aforethought. If the person planned the act before committing it, they engaged in malice aforethought and can face murder charges. Without premeditation, it is considered manslaughter.
The seriousness of homicide offenses
Homicide is one of the most serious criminal offenses with which a person can be charged. New Mexico laws classifies homicide into the following types:
- First-degree murder
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Second-degree murder
- Vehicular homicide
- Voluntary manslaughter
Someone who commits homicide may not face charges under certain circumstances. For instance, if a person loses control of their vehicle on an icy roadway and hits and kills a pedestrian, their actions may not be ruled a homicide. The key is determining whether the person was engaging in a legal activity and taking appropriate precautions at the time the homicide occurred. Even if someone is charged with vehicular homicide in this case, a judge or jury ultimately would decide if their actions rose to the level of homicide.
According to New Mexico Statute Section 30-2-1, persons convicted of homicide face:
- Up to nine years in prison for a second-degree felony.
- Up to 18 years in prison for a first-degree felony.
- Up to life imprisonment for a capital felony.
Some states have the death penalty as an option for homicide. New Mexico abolished capital punishment in 2009. It was replaced with life imprisonment and life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Manslaughter in New Mexico
New Mexico statutes define manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” With the absence of deliberateness, the crime is considered less serious than murder. Two classifications of manslaughter exist in the state:
Involuntary manslaughter is defined in two ways:
- A killing that happened during the commission of an unlawful act not classified as a felony under the law. For example, a person who is having an argument with another person and pushes them during the altercation. The victim falls and hits their head and later dies at the hospital. This would be involuntary manslaughter.
- A killing that happened when someone is engaged in a legal but careless act. An example is a drug abuser who shares their needle with someone else and that person overdoses.
Involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Voluntary manslaughter is a killing that happens during the heat of the moment. If two men get into an argument that escalates into a physical fight that causes the death of one of them, the other can face voluntary manslaughter charges. A third-degree felony, it is punishable by up to six years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Murder in New Mexico
Murder in New Mexico is the unlawful killing of one human being by another without lawful justification. There are two types of murder in the state.
First-degree murder is the most serious classification. To be charged with first-degree murder, a person must:
- Kill someone through a deliberate, premeditated, and willful act.
- Kill someone in the commission of a felony (robbing a bank, breaking and entering, etc.).
- Kill someone while engaged in an act that exhibits reckless disregard for human life.
Defendants convicted of first-degree murder have committed a capital offense. Punishment includes life in prison or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Second-degree murder is the go-to charge for intentional killings that do not rise to the level of first-degree murder by prosecutorial standards. They also do not fit within the legal definition of voluntary manslaughter. Engaging in behavior a person knows is likely to cause another person’s death or serious bodily harm fits into this category. For example, a person who fires a gun into a crowd could face second-degree murder charges.
Defendants convicted of second-degree murder receive sentencing for a second-degree felony, which includes up to 15 years in prison and a $12,500 fine.
Contact an experienced Albuquerque criminal defense attorney
Persons facing homicide charges of any degree can count on the legal expertise of Marcus Cameron. Using a public defender may be free but it may not get defendants the adequate representation they deserve. Cameron and Russell have an excellent reputation for ensuring the rights of their clients. Contact Marcus today to schedule your free consultation.