Murder vs. Manslaughter: What You Need to Know

Understanding murder vs. manslaughter charges: how they are treated by the court and your best defense strategy

Murder vs. manslaughter as defined by law

Murder vs. manslaughter: both homicide charges carry very different consequences within the criminal justice system. A key distinction between murder vs. manslaughter is intent. Both murder and manslaughter charges are further broken down by degree to most accurately capture the intent and severity of a homicide. This impacts the intent and severity of any resulting sentencing. See examples below. 

First-degree murder

As defined by Massachusetts law, murder in the first degree describes: “the unjustified killing of another person with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought, or murder executed with extreme atrocity and cruelty, or murder resulting from the commission of a crime punishable with death or imprisonment for life.” Regardless of intent, felony murders in which a killing occurs in connection with a felony crime punishable by a maximum life sentence, are treated in the same way as first-degree murder. 

Second-degree murder

In the case of second-degree murder, a defendant may have acted with an intent to kill, but without a pre-meditated plan to kill. The difference between first and second-degree murder has much to do with the mindset of the defendant at the time of the killing, which may require skilled defense to prove or disprove in court. 

Voluntary manslaughter 

Voluntary manslaughter describes the intentional killing of another person in response to a reasonable provocation. We sometimes hear this described as murder committed “in the heat of passion.” Often these charges follow killings that occur as a result of mutual hostility or under circumstances of provable stress or duress. 

Involuntary manslaughter 

Unlike voluntary manslaughter, in which a defendant acts with intention in response to a reasonable provocation, involuntary manslaughter describes cases of unintended deaths often resulting from accidental, negligent, or reckless behavior on the part of the defendant. Examples may include fatal reckless or drunk-driving accidents.  

Accidental deaths such as those that occur as the result of a car crash where no criminal activity took place, or self-defense resulting in a homicide, are considered non-criminal homicides and fall outside of the purview of murder vs. manslaughter.  

How sentencing varies in murder vs. manslaughter cases

When it comes to these charges, the prosecution has broad discretion during a charge’s initial filing and defendants face substantially different sentencing for murder vs. manslaughter charges. The penalty for a first-degree murder charge in Massachusetts is life imprisonment without parole. The punishment for manslaughter is generally less than that which is carried for murder of the first or second-degree. For example, in Massachusetts manslaughter prison sentences range from less than a year and up to 20 years. 

If you or a loved one has been arrested on a homicide charge, only the best defense will do. Contact the Law Offices of Keren Goldenberg today to discuss the details of your case: online or by phone: 978-221-2503 (Lowell), 617-431-2701 (Belmont).

Your lifeline defense

It is important to remember that regardless of the gravity of the charges you face, you are innocent until proven guilty. With the guidance of an experienced murder or manslaughter defense lawyer, there is potential to face significantly lesser punishments for homicide charges. Call Keren Goldenberg to get advice on your case today. 

The Law Offices of Keren Goldenberg are conveniently located in Lowell and Belmont, Massachusetts at the following locations:

The Law Offices of Keren Goldenberg

97 Central St. #403

Lowell, MA 01852


The Law Offices of Keren Goldenberg

19A Alexander Ave.

Belmont, MA 02478


With Offices in Lowell and Belmont • Call Us Now!(978) 221-2503